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How Long Should I Keep my Tax Records?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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There is a great deal of dispute on how long you should keep tax records, and what should be included in those records. Is saving a return enough, or do you need to keep copies of W-2s, receipts for expenses, and any forms filed in addition to your business tax reports or 1040? You’ll find a lot of different answers if you ask this question online.

The IRS recommends that you keep tax records and paperwork for three or four years after the date of filing. They do amend this statement if you owe money that you can’t pay immediately. If you owe back taxes or are making payments on them, then the IRS suggests your keep your tax records for four years after the last payment has been made. They do concede that some companies, individuals and the like could want to see your records from years previous to the four year date.

There’s something of a problem with the IRS suggestion. They have ten years to find mistakes in your taxes and collect on any amounts you may have underpaid. Generally, the IRS won’t look that far back, so some financial experts suggest you hold onto tax records, receipts, W-2s, and et cetera for seven years. This compromise seems a little silly. If technically the IRS can call you to account for taxes you filed ten years ago, it would seem prudent to keep the forms et al, for ten years. Even if it is not likely you’ll need a return from ten years prior, it would be good to have that information if you ever need it.

Others differ and feel that tax records should be kept always. There may be some sense to this suggestion, especially in keeping W-2s. The reason you may want to hang onto W-2s is clearly stated when you receive yearly reports on how much social security you may be entitled to when you retire. If you have paid more social security than the Social Security Administration estimates, you may be entitled to slightly higher retirement benefits. At the very least, plan on checking W-2s or 1099 misc. forms against Social Security Reports to make sure you aren’t being shorted.

Tax records can be required for a number of things. When you apply for student loans or financial aid for school for yourself or children, you may need to submit copies of a couple of years’ returns. If your tax paperwork is for a business, you may need this information to make full disclosure to the public. It’s best to err on the side of caution, and keep the records longer than you need. A simple two-drawer file cabinet will hold records and related paperwork nicely, and is a reasonable investment to make so that you can hold your records securely.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon306282 — On Nov 29, 2012

They can put a lien on your home for normal state income taxes too. I have a family member going through that.

By Bhutan — On Mar 07, 2011

I always heard that you should keep your tax records for the last five years, but I think that keeping them a little longer can’t hurt.

I would keep all of the property tax records because you need proof that you paid your taxes because they can place a lien on your home if they did not receive your tax payment or it got lost in the mail. I rather be safe than sorry because the government does make mistakes.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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