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Now That My 2010 Tax Return has been filed, which documents can I throw away?

April 19, 2011

Q: Now That My 2010 Tax Return has Been Filed with the IRS, Which Documents Can I Throw Away?

Q: Now That My 2010 Tax Return has Been Filed with the IRS, Which Documents Can I Throw Away?

A. In general, you should keep records that support items shown on your individual tax return until the statute of limitations runs out—generally three years from the due date of the return, or the date you filed, whichever is later. In most cases, the IRS can audit your return for three years and you want to have the relevant records available.

You can also file an amended return on Form 1040X during this time period if you missed a deduction, overlooked a credit or misreported income.

That means that you can safely throw away or use a shredder to get rid of some paperwork that was used to file your 2007 tax return, which was due on April 15, 2008.

So, does that mean you’re safe from an audit after three years? Not necessarily. There are exceptions. For example:

•If the IRS has reason to believe your income was understated by 25 percent or more, the statute of limitations for an audit increases to six years.
•If there is suspicion of fraud or you don’t file a tax return at all, there is no time limit for the IRS.
How Long Should I Keep Individual Return Documents?

Like most issues involving the IRS or other government agencies, there’s no easy answer to that question. The IRS does not require you to keep records in any particular way. But here are some basic guidelines to follow for individuals.

Completed tax returns. Many tax advisers recommend that you hold onto copies of your finished tax returns forever. Why? So you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed. Even if you don’t keep the returns indefinitely, you should hang onto them for at least six years after they are due or filed, whichever is later.

Backup records. Any written evidence that supports figures on your tax return, such as receipts, expense logs, bank notices and sales records, should generally be kept for at least the three year period.

Exceptions. There are some cases when taxpayers get more than the usual three years to file an amended return. You have up to seven years to take deductions for bad debts or worthless securities, so don’t toss out records that could result in refund claims for those items.

Real estate records. Keep these for as long as you own the property, plus three years after you dispose of it and report the transaction on your tax return. Throughout ownership, keep records of the purchase, as well as receipts for home improvements, relevant insurance claims, and documents relating to refinancing. These help prove your adjusted basis in the home, which is needed to figure the taxable gain at the time of sale, or to support calculations for rental property or home office deductions.

Securities. To accurately report taxable events involving stocks and bonds, you must maintain detailed records of purchases and sales. These records should include dates, quantities, prices, dividend reinvestment, and investment expenses, such as broker fees. Keep these records for as long as you own the investments, plus the statute of limitations on the relevant tax returns.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). The IRS requires you to keep copies of Forms 8606, 5498 and 1099-R until all the money is withdrawn from your IRA accounts. With the introduction of Roth IRAs, it’s more important than ever to hold onto all IRA records pertaining to contributions and withdrawals in case you’re ever questioned.

If an account is closed, treat IRA records with the same rules as securities. Don’t dispose of any ownership documentation until the statute of limitations expires.

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