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What kind of records should I keep?

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You may choose any recordkeeping system suited to your business that clearly shows your income and expenses. The business you are in affects the type of records you need to keep for federal tax purposes. Your recordkeeping system should include a summary of your business transactions. This summary is ordinarily made in your business books (for example, accounting journals and ledgers). Your books must show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits. For most small businesses, the business checking account is the main source for entries in the business books.

Some businesses choose to use electronic accounting software programs or some other type of electronic system to capture and organize their records. The electronic accounting software program or electronic system you choose should meet the same basic recordkeeping principles mentioned above.  All requirements that apply to hard copy books and records also apply to electronic records. For more detailed information refer to Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records.

Supporting Business Documents

Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions you have in your business will generate supporting documents. Supporting documents include sales slips, paid bills, invoices, receipts, deposit slips, and canceled checks. These documents contain the information you need to record in your books. It is important to keep these documents because they support the entries in your books and on your tax return. You should keep them in an orderly fashion and in a safe place. For instance, organize them by year and type of income or expense.

The following are some of the types of records you should keep:

  • Gross receipts are the income you receive from your business. You should keep supporting documents that show the amounts and sources of your gross receipts. Documents for gross receipts include the following:
    • Cash register tapes
    • Deposit information (cash and credit sales)
    • Receipt books
    • Invoices
    • Forms 1099-MISC
  • Purchases are the items you buy and resell to customers. If you are a manufacturer or producer, this includes the cost of all raw materials or parts purchased for manufacture into finished products. Your supporting documents should show the amount paid and that the amount was for purchases. Documents for purchases include the following:
    • Canceled checks or other documents that identify payee, amount, and proof of payment/electronic funds transferred
    • Cash register tape receipts
    • Credit card receipts and statements
    • Invoices
  • Expenses are the costs you incur (other than purchases) to carry on your business. Your supporting documents should show the amount paid and a description that shows the amount was for a business expense. Documents for expenses include the following:
    • Canceled checks or other documents that identify payee, amount, and proof of payment/electronic funds transferred
    • Cash register tapes
    • Account statements
    • Credit card receipts and statements
    • Invoices
    • Petty cash slips for small cash payments
  • Travel, Transportation, Entertainment, and Gift Expenses
    If you deduct travel, entertainment, gift or transportation expenses, you must be able to prove (substantiate) certain elements of expenses.  For additional information, refer to Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses.

  • Assets are the property, such as machinery and furniture, that you own and use in your business. You must keep records to verify certain information about your business assets. You need records to compute the annual depreciation and the gain or loss when you sell the assets. Documents for assets should show the following information:
    • When and how you acquired the assets
    • Purchase price
    • Cost of any improvements
    • Section 179 deduction taken
    • Deductions taken for depreciation
    • Deductions taken for casualty losses, such as losses resulting from fires or storms
    • How you used the asset
    • When and how you disposed of the asset
    • Selling price
    • Expenses of sale

    The following documents may show this information.

    • Purchase and sales invoices
    • Real estate closing statements
    • Canceled checks or other documents that identify payee, amount, and proof of payment/electronic funds transferred
  • Employment taxes
    There are specific employment tax records you must keep.  Keep all records of employment for at least four years.  For additional information, refer to Recordkeeping for Employers and Publication 15, Circular E Employers Tax Guide.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 30-Jun-2015