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William Perez

Documents to Retain after Filing Your Tax Return

By May 1, 2012

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After filing your tax return with the IRS and state tax agencies, you should keep copies of that return and any documents or data relating to that tax return. At minimum, the documents should be kept at least three years, or possibly longer depending on which states you filed in.

What documents are essential to keep? The list of documents you'll need to retain varies depending on your tax situation. But here's a short list of important documents:

  • Copy of the tax return itself, including all forms and schedules;
  • Proof of filing such as a certified mail receipt or electronic filing acknowledgement.
  • Proof of tax payments such as EFTPS confirmation receipts or canceled checks;
  • Any tax documents issued by third parties such as W-2 and 1099 forms;
  • Any summaries of income and expense, such as for business income or rental income, along with a back up copy of any accounting data files (such as Excel spreadsheets or Quickbooks files).
  • Receipts for tax deductions, especially for charitable donations and property tax statements.

My recommendation is to have two copies of this document set, one existing in its original form on paper and a second copy in electronic format such as PDF or scanned image files.

Make a PDF copy of your tax return. Most tax software will let you save a copy of your federal and state tax returns in a portable document format (PDF). This makes it easy to open, share, read or print our tax return should the need arise. Be sure to keep the PDF backed up in a safe location.

Store your tax return and related documents in an easy to remember place. For myself, I create one file folder for each year, and into that folder goes a print out of my tax return along with any tax documents such as W-2s and 1099s. You could do the same thing electronically by scanning your tax return and documents.

Store paper documents separate from electronic documents. If one set of documents gets lost or destroyed, there's a chance the other documents might still be safe.

Consider saving electronic documents on CD-ROM. If your computer crashes or becomes unusable, the data from the CD-ROM can be retrieved and accessed. Also, CDs can be easily stored away in a secure, fire-proof location.

Apply passwords to electronic documents. PDF and scanned image files can be easily opened in any number of software programs. So to protect your tax documents, you may want to secure the files with a password. For example, you could create a ZIP archive folder of your tax returns and documents with a password, or you could encrypt your files using OpenPGP utilities.

Make a backup of your tax data file. If you're using desktop tax software, make a backup of the data file and store it in a safe location along with the tax software CD-ROM or installation program you downloaded.

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