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1.   Importance of Records


A farmer, like other taxpayers, must keep records to prepare an accurate income tax return and determine the correct amount of tax. This chapter explains the benefits of keeping records, what kinds of records you must keep, and how long you must keep them for federal tax purposes.

Tax records are not the only type of records you need to keep for your farming business. You should also keep records that measure your farm's financial performance. This publication only discusses tax records.

The Farm Financial Standards Council has produced a publication that provides a detailed explanation of the recommendations of the Council for financial reporting and analysis. For information on recordkeeping, you can purchase and download 2016 Financial Guidelines for Agriculture at For more information, contact Countryside Marketing, Inc. in the following manner.

  • Call 262-253-6902.

  • Send a fax to 262-253-6903.

  • Write to: 
    Farm Financial Standards Council 
    N78 W14573 Appleton Ave., #287 
    Menomonee Falls, WI 53051.

Topics - This chapter discusses:

  • Benefits of recordkeeping

  • Kinds of records to keep

  • How long to keep records

Useful Items - You may want to see:


  • 51 (Circular A), Agricultural Employer's Tax Guide

  • 463 Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses

See chapter 16 for information about getting publications.

Benefits of Recordkeeping

Everyone in business, including farmers, must keep appropriate records. Recordkeeping will help you do the following.

Monitor the progress of your farming business.   You need records to monitor the progress of your farming business. Records can show whether your business is improving, which items are selling, or what changes you need to make. Records can help you make better decisions that may increase the likelihood of business success.

Prepare your financial statements.   You need records to prepare accurate financial statements. These include income (profit and loss) statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets. These statements can help you in dealing with your bank or creditors and help you to manage your farm business.

Identify source of receipts.   You will receive money, property, and/or services from many sources. Your records can identify the source of your receipts. You need this information to separate farm from nonfarm receipts and taxable from nontaxable income.

Keep track of deductible expenses.   You may forget expenses when you prepare your tax return unless you record them when they occur.

Prepare your tax returns.   You need records to prepare your tax return. For example, your records must support the income, expenses, and credits you report. Generally, these are the same records you use to monitor your farming business and prepare your financial statements.

Support items reported on tax returns.   You must keep your business records available at all times for inspection by the IRS. If the IRS examines any of your tax returns, you may be asked to explain the items reported. A complete set of records will speed up the examination.

Kinds of Records To Keep

Except in a few cases, the law does not require any specific kind of records. You can choose any recordkeeping system suited to your farming business that clearly shows, for example, your income and expenses.

You should set up your recordkeeping system using an accounting method that clearly shows your income for your tax year. If you are in more than one business, you should keep a complete and separate set of records for each business. A corporation should keep minutes of board of directors' meetings. See  
chapter 2 for more information.

Your recordkeeping system should include a summary of your business transactions. This summary is ordinarily made in accounting journals and ledgers. For example, they must show your gross income, as well as your deductions and credits. In addition, you must keep supporting documents. Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions you have in your business generate supporting documents such as invoices and receipts. These documents contain the information you need to record in your journals and ledgers.

It is important to keep these documents because they support the entries in your journals and ledgers and on your tax return. Keep them in an orderly fashion and in a safe place. For instance, organize them by year and type of income or expense.

Electronic records.   All requirements that apply to hard copy books and records also apply to electronic storage systems that maintain tax books and records. When you replace hard copy books and records, you must maintain the electronic storage systems for as long as they are material to the administration of tax law.

  An electronic storage system is any system for preparing or keeping your records either by electronic imaging or by transfer to an electronic storage media. The electronic storage system must index, store, preserve, retrieve and reproduce the electronically stored books and records in legible format. All electronic storage systems must provide a complete and accurate record of your data that is accessible to the IRS.

  Electronic storage systems are also subject to the same controls and retention guidelines as those imposed on your original hard copy books and records. The original hard copy books and records may be destroyed provided that the electronic storage system has been tested to establish that the hard copy books and records are being reproduced in compliance with IRS requirements for an electronic storage system and procedures are established to ensure continued compliance with all applicable rules and regulations. You still have the responsibility of retaining any other books and records that are required to be retained.

  The IRS may test your electronic storage system, including the equipment used, indexing methodology, software and retrieval capabilities. This test is not considered an examination and the results must be shared with you. If your electronic storage system meets the requirements mentioned earlier, you will be in compliance. If not, you may be subject to penalties for non-compliance, unless you continue to maintain your original hard copy books and records in a manner that allows you and the IRS to determine your correct tax. For details on electronic storage system requirements, see Rev. Proc. 97-22. You can find Rev. Proc. 97-22 on page 9 of Internal Revenue Bulletin 1997-13 at

Travel, transportation, entertainment, and gift expenses.   Specific recordkeeping rules apply to these expenses. For more information, see Pub. 463.

Employment taxes.   There are specific employment tax records you must keep. For a list, see Pub. 51 (Circular A).

Excise taxes.   See How To Claim a Credit or Refund in chapter 14 for the specific records you must keep to verify your claim for credit or refund of excise taxes on certain fuels.

Assets.   Assets are the property, such as machinery and equipment, you own and use in your business. You must keep records to verify certain information about your business assets. You need records to figure your annual depreciation deduction and the gain or (loss) when you sell the assets. Your records should show all the following.
  • When and how you acquired the asset.

  • 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 are examples of records that may show this information.
  • Purchase and sales invoices.

  • Real estate closing statements.

  • Canceled checks.

  • Bank statements.

Financial account statements as proof of payment.   If you do not have a canceled check, you may be able to prove payment with certain financial account statements prepared by financial institutions. These include account statements prepared for the financial institution by a third party. These account statements must be legible. The following table lists acceptable account statements.
IF payment is by... THEN the statement must show the...
  • Check number.

  • Amount.

  • Payee's name.

  • Date the check amount was posted to the account by the financial institution.

Electronic funds  
  • Amount transferred.

  • Payee's name.

  • Date the transfer was posted to the account by the financial institution.

Credit card
  • Amount charged.

  • Payee's name.

  • Transaction date.

Proof of payment of an amount, by itself, does not establish you are entitled to a tax deduction. You should also keep other documents, such as credit card sales slips and invoices, to show that you also incurred the cost.

Tax returns.   Keep copies of your filed tax returns. They help in preparing future tax returns and making computations if you file an amended return. Keep copies of your information returns such as Form 1099, Schedule K-1, and Form W-2.

How Long To Keep Records

You must keep your records as long as they may be needed for the administration of any provision of the Internal Revenue Code. Keep records that support an item of income or a deduction appearing on a return until the period of limitations for the return runs out. A period of limitations is the period of time after which no legal action can be brought. Generally, that means you must keep your records for at least 3 years from when your tax return was due or filed or within 2 years of the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. However, certain records must be kept for a longer period of time, as discussed below.

Employment taxes.   If you have employees, you must keep all employment tax records for at least 4 years after the date the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

Assets.   Keep records relating to property until the period of limitations expires for the year in which you dispose of the property in a taxable disposition. You must keep these records to figure any depreciation, amortization, or depletion deduction and to figure your basis for computing gain or (loss) when you sell or otherwise dispose of the property.

  You may need to keep records relating to the basis of property longer than the period of limitation. Keep those records as long as they are important in figuring the basis of the original or replacement property. Generally, this means as long as you own the property and, after you dispose of it, for the period of limitations that applies to you. For example, if you received property in a nontaxable exchange, you must keep the records for the old property, as well as for the new property, until the period of limitations expires for the year in which you dispose of the new property in a taxable disposition. For more information on basis, see chapter 6.

Records for nontax purposes.   When your records are no longer needed for tax purposes, do not discard them until you check to see if you have to keep them longer for other purposes. For example, your insurance company or creditors may require you to keep them longer than the IRS does.

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