People often receive conflicting information regarding the length of time they should retain a canceled check. In some cases, there may be different rules that apply to individuals versus business entities, but in general, most paper checks can be disposed of once they have been reconciled with your monthly bank statement. Several exceptions exist, and most of them have to do with keeping accurate records for tax purposes. Depending on the type of expense, some canceled checks need to be kept for only a year, while others should be filed for at least seven years.
A check that you have written is considered canceled when the funds have been withdrawn from your bank account. The actual check is usually stamped or otherwise marked as canceled, and in some cases, it is returned to you. Otherwise, you might receive a photocopy or have access to the information online — this practice by the bank is typically referred to as check retention, truncation, or safekeeping. You may not need to keep paper statements or checks at all if you have access to them online or by requesting copies from the bank. Many people find that these practices help them control their paper clutter.
Some potential situations in which you would need to keep a canceled check could include providing it as proof of purchase for a defective item or proof of payment of a bill. More importantly, some canceled checks should be kept as part of your tax records, such as those for deductible expenses. Most financial experts recommend filing the canceled check for a minimum of seven and a maximum of ten years. For U.S. residents, this can help them safeguard their information and provide documentation if they are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Other canceled checks, such as those for routine payments, can usually be discarded after three years — at most. Some, however, might need to be saved in order to document charges related to health care for insurance purposes, for example. In addition, homeowners are often advised to retain canceled checks related to home improvement for as long as they own their property.
There are some disadvantages to having only a canceled check as documentation. In some cases, the check shows how much was paid and to whom, but it does not indicate the specifics of what was purchased. As a result, it can be difficult to justify certain business expenses and write them off for tax purposes. Therefore, it might be helpful to keep receipts and other supporting documents as supplementary information. When they are no longer needed, checks and other papers should usually be shredded to help avoid identity fraud.