Tax Records: What You Need to Keep and For How Long

woman keeping tax records

The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2020 (taxes filed in 2021). 

Once you file and your tax return is accepted, you may never need to use those documents again. But the IRS can investigate your situation for up to three years after you fileAnd you never know – maybe youll want to amend your return to claim a tax credit or fix a reporting error. For these reasons alone, it’s a good idea to keep your tax records for longer than just the year you filed. Here’s what to keep – and how. 

What kind of tax records do I need to keep?

You’ll want to hang on to any records that support the different deductions and credits you claimed on your tax return. You also want to keep the forms that show how much income you earned. 

Important tax documents that you should keep year after year include (but are not limited to): 

  • A printed copy of your most recent tax return 
  • Income records for the current year
  • W-2s 
  • 1099s 
  • Investment income 
  • Unemployment benefits 
  • Gambling winnings or losses 
  • IRA Contributions – Form 5498 
  • Mortgage interest statements 
  • Student loan forms – Form 1098-E 
  • Tuition statement – Form 1098-T*   
  • Home improvement receipts 
  • Charitable donation receipts 
  • Receipts for unreimbursed medical expenses  
  • Form 1095: Health insurance coverage forms  
  • Mileage logs** 

*Do you receive education tax credits? Remember to keep receipts for qualifying school-related expenses. 

**Did you deduct your business miles traveled? If you used the standard method, keep receipts for vehicle-related expenses. 

How long should I keep tax records?

In general, the IRS requires you to keep your tax records for a minimum of three years after you file themHere’s why:  

If you decide to amend your tax return, you need tax records to back up what you report. Let’s say you qualify for a tax credit, so you amend your return and claim it. The IRS says you have up to three years to file your amendment and get your money.  

Also, the IRS has three years (in some cases, they have up to six years) from the time your return is filed to audit you for that tax year. An audit doesn’t mean you did anything incorrectly – but you need to show your records to prove that your return was accurate. 

Before you destroy your records that are older than three years, remember that certain creditors and even some insurance companies may require you to keep records longer than the IRS does. 

If you did not file a return, you should keep your tax records for that year indefinitely (forever). You may also want to read this article: What if I didn’t file my taxes last year?  

If you claimed bad debt or a loss from worthless securities, you need to keep your tax records for seven years after you file. 

What’s the best way to store my tax records?

One way to keep your documents safe and protect your privacy is with a fireproof safe. It might sound old-fashioned in a high-tech world, but it’s effective. You can also store digital copies of documents on an external hard drive or backed up on the cloud. 

Want to avoid paper clutter? Read The Best Way to Organize Receipts and Records for Tax Time. 

What is the best way to destroy old tax records?

Once you can confidently get rid of your records, be sure to use a safe method, such as shredding, to ensure confidential information is secure. If you have a digital copy of your records, delete all versions – including the files that are backed up on your hard drive.

How can I get a copy of my old tax returns?

When you file with TaxSlayer, your records are stored in your account in case you need to access them. For help retrieving your records, read How Do I Obtain a Copy of a Prior Year Return?

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