It's been a month since most Americans filed their federal tax returns.
So what happened to all the material they used to fill out their 1040s? If they had a record keeping system in place, they probably immediately shifted "2010 taxes to-do" documents to their "2011 taxes done" files.
But just in case you aren't that obsessive and/or organized, there's still time to get your old tax paperwork in order and plenty of time to set up a system to make next filing season easier.
That story has lots of good advice about the type of record-keeping systems you can use. If your taxes and necessary records are not that complicated, something as simple as an accordion file can work. Basically, anything system that's complete and easy for you to access is OK with the IRS.
As for what you need to put into your tax records file, here are some suggestions on getting your tax documents, past and present, in order:
Save a copy of your return and all the associated schedules you filed. If you e-filed and the form copy is on your computer, be sure you back it up, just in case.
Keep everything you used to substantiate each entry on your return. This includes, but is not limited to, W-2 and 1099 forms, canceled checks, receipts, sales slips, invoices and bank, brokerage and mutual fund statements. Again, this material can be in paper form and/or digitized. And again, if you're keeping your tax data on your computer, be sure you have a back-up copy on a flash drive or CD.
Any notes, handwritten or on your computer, you used to file your return also should be saved. They are helpful when, months later, you pull out your tax forms to check something and can't quite remember what a line-item was. I've also used these notes as reminders for similar tax moves/breaks I claimed in subsequent years.
My personal tax filing system has evolved over the years. Right now, during tax filing season I use a plastic filing box as a temporary holding system. It's more accessible than the filing cabinet which houses my past three years of tax return material.
1040s forever: Once a tax return is three years old, I pull out the copy of the actual 1040 and attachments that I sent to the IRS and put that material into my permanent "Tax Returns" file. Yes, permanent.
A 1040 and a couple of schedules usually don't take up that much space, but they're good to have on hand if, for example, you apply for a loan and the lender wants, say, you last five years of tax returns.
Will someone ever want to look at my first-ever tax return? Maybe my eventual biographer. But back to reality, probably not. Still, I'm a little obsessive-compulsive about taxes (really?) so there!
As for the supporting documents on the three-year-old return, I move those papers to a box and store it on the top shelf of my closet.
How long to hang onto tax material: Why the three-year time frame? Because that's generally how long the IRS has to question a filing.
After that time, since I probably won't need to access the supporting documents, I move the old tax material out of my active tax filing system.
But, as I noted, I keep it for a while longer.
I have the space, and they eventually get rotated out (and shredded) as other tax year documents take their place.
- Time for tax recordkeeping
- Tackling tax record keeping
- Midyear tax tip: Get organized!
- Tax record keeping song and dance
- Weekly Tax Tips for 2011
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