A Complete Guide To Record Retention

Image of person filing documents in filing cabinet - record retention

Record retention may seem like the endless accumulation of documents, but it’s actually a key tool if you’re subject to an IRS audit, various legal actions, or when planning for the future. With so many important documents to keep track of, how do you know which ones to save, and how long to hold onto them?

Below are suggested retention guidelines for specific documents as they apply to individuals, businesses, and more.



Retain permanently

  • Tax return copies
  • Life insurance policies
  • Forms W-2 received
  • House records
  • Birth and death certificates
  • Medical records


Retain for a minimum of seven years

  • Medical receipts
  • Forms 1099 received
  • Loan records
  • Certificates of deposit statements



You should permanently file corporate records such as annual reports, public audit reports, bylaws, election records, and financial statements. You should also record and retain organizational charts, board of directors committees, and minute books forever.

Nearly all documents related to fixed assets and taxation should also be stored indefinitely. Items such as the 338 election and transfer pricing can be retained for seven years or less.

Most legal documents, such as business permits, employee or labor union contracts, and patents, must be retained permanently. Hold leases and notes receivable for 10 years.

The ability to access financial documents if needed requires a strong security and organization systems to store them. Make sure you have electronic and hard copy files, and the right security in place to protect them. Create a strategic filing system so you can find your documents with ease when it comes time to access them.

View more record retention guidelines below.

Record Retention Guidelines

ItemSuggested retention period
Tax return copiesPermanent records
Medical receipts7 years
Forms 1099 received7 years
Forms W-2 receivedPermanent records
401(k) / Keogh statements7 years following disposition, termination or payoff
IRA statements (deductible & nondeductible)7 years / permanent records
Loan records / Forms 10987 years following disposition, termination or payoff
Annuity year-end statements7 years following disposition, termination or payoff
Life insurance policiesPermanent records
Other insurance policies7 years
Major purchase receipts7 years
Year-end brokerage statements / trade confirmations7 years following disposition, termination or payoff
Certificates of deposit statements7 years
Schedule K-1s from partnership or S corporation7 years following disposition, termination or payoff
House records (canceled checks for purchase of major improvements & maintenance)Permanent records
Birth & death certificatesPermanent records
Medical recordsPermanent records
WillsPermanent records
Trust agreementsPermanent records
Detailed list of financial assets heldPermanent records
Alimony, custody, or prenuptial agreementsPermanent records
Military papersPermanent records
Photos or videotape valuablesPermanent records
ItemSuggested retention period
AmendmentsPermanent records
Annual reportsPermanent records
Articles of incorporationPermanent records
Public audit reportsPermanent records
Internal audit6 years
Board of directors committeePermanent records
Board of directors minute bookPermanent records
BylawsPermanent records
Capital stock certificatesPermanent records
Capital stock ledgerPermanent records
Capital stock transactionsPermanent records
CharterPermanent records
Contracts - after terminationPermanent records
Contributions7 years
Accounting correspondence5 years
General correspondencePermanent records
Dividend register & canceled dividend checksPermanent records
Election recordsPermanent records
Financial statementsPermanent records
Organizational chartsPermanent records
Partnership agreementPermanent records
Stock transfer recordsPermanent records
Stockholders minute bookPermanent records
ItemSuggested retention period
Depreciation schedulePermanent records
Inventory recordsPermanent records
Plans & blueprintsPermanent records
Plant cost ledgerPermanent records
Property appraisalsPermanent records
Records for property subject to depletionPermanent records
ItemSuggested retention period
Accounts payable ledger7 years
Accounts receivable aging reports7 years
Accounts receivable ledger7 years
Accounts receivable invoices7 years
Accounts written-off7 years
Authorization - accounting5 years
Balance sheetsPermanent records
Bank reconciliations7 years
Bank statements7 years
Bank deposit slips3 years
Budgets3 years
Canceled checks10 years
Canceled dividend checksPermanent records
Cash bookPermanent records
Cash disbursement & receipt recordPermanent records
Cash sales slips7 years
Charge slips7 years
Charts of accountsPermanent records
Check registerPermanent records
Expense reports7 years
Financial statementsPermanent records
General ledgerPermanent records
Investment - sales / purchasesPermanent records
Journal entriesPermanent records
Petty cash records7 years
Profit / loss statementsPermanent records
Purchase order7 years
Subsidiary ledgerPermanent records
Trial balancePermanent records
Vendor invoices7 years
Voucher check copies7 years
ItemSuggested retention period
Tax free reorganizationPermanent records
338 election7 years
Canceled checks - tax paymentsPermanent records
Tax correspondencePermanent records
Depreciation schedulesPermanent records
Income tax returnsPermanent records
Inventory reportsPermanent records
FUTA / FICA / Income tax withholding4 years
Payroll tax returnsPermanent records
Revenue agent reportsPermanent records
Sales tax returnsPermanent records
NOL companyMaintain permanent records of all the facts necessary for the first taxable year and each succeeding year in which there’s a NOL or NOL carryover. This includes records necessary to determine the identity of 5% shareholders, the percentage of its stock owned by each 5% shareholder and whether IRC Section 382 is applicable.
AMT NOL companyMaintain permanent records of all the facts necessary for the first taxable year and each succeeding year in which there’s a NOL or NOL carryover. This includes records necessary to determine the identity of 5% shareholders, the percentage of its stock owned by each 5% shareholder and whether IRC Section 382 is applicable.
Transfer pricing4 years
ItemSuggested retention period
Contractors3 years from date of completion of contract
Payroll checks7 years
Salesperson commission reports6 years
Employee withholding exemption certificates10 years
Payroll register4 years
Payroll records - after termination10 years
Salary history8 years
Time reports7 years
Forms W-2Permanent records
Vacation / sick pay4 years
Large food or beverage establishment reporting tips3 years
Employee tip substantiation3 years - as long as the contents there-of may become material in the administration of any Internal Revenue Law
ItemSuggested retention period
Settled accident reports7 years
Attendance records7 years
Dental benefits5 years
Disability benefits - after expiration / settlement7 years
Employee medical history7 years
Employment application - not hired3 years
Garnishments5 years
Life insurance benefits5 years
Medical benefits7 years
Pension plan agreementPermanent records
Performance record - after termination7 years
Personnel file - after termination7 years
Personnel files - current employeesPermanent records
Profit sharing agreementPermanent records
Safety reports5 years
Vacation files4 years
Workers compensation benefits10 years
Sick pay4 years
Family & medical leave3 years
ItemSuggested retention period
Automobile insurance claims10 years
Disability insurance claims - after termination7 years
Expired insurance policies10 years
Fire inspection reports6 years
Insurance appraisals6 years
Safety records6 years
Foreign insurance policies3 years
ItemSuggested retention period
Bill of salePermanent records
Business permitsPermanent records
Claims & litigation concerning torts & breach of contractPermanent records
Contracts - employeesPermanent records
Contracts - governmentPermanent records
Contracts - labor unionPermanent records
Contracts - specialPermanent records
CopyrightsPermanent records
Correspondence - legalPermanent records
Deeds / titlesPermanent records
Leases / canceled10 years
LicensesPermanent records
MortgagesPermanent records
Notes receivable - canceled10 years
PatentsPermanent records
Stock & bond recordPermanent records
Trademarks - registeredPermanent records
ItemSuggested retention period
Classified material violationsPermanent records
Visitor clearance2 years
ItemSuggested retention period
Receiving documents10 years
Title papersPermanent records
Vehicle operation maintenance2 years
Telecommunication copies1 year
Prepaid dues income4 years
Financial institution loan loss reservesPermanent records
Mutual savings bank bad debt reservePermanent records
ItemSuggested retention period
Tax return preparers4 years
Tax returns prepared4 years

Have questions about record retention? Let’s talk!