Guidelines for Keeping Business Records

A good, organized system of records is vital for a successful business. Proper records are needed to sustain a positive cash flow, substantiate tax deductions, obtain financing, monitor progress, make insurance claims, and defend against lawsuits, among other common business practices.

Depending on the type of business you run, you may also be legally required to keep certain records. For instance, if you have employees, you may need to produce records to substantiate your compliance with state and federal employment laws.

Here's what you should keep and for how long:

Accounting Records

Keep

  • Audit reports
  • Canceled checks for fixed asset purchases, income tax payments, and other critical payments
  • Cash receipts and disbursement records
  • Chart of accounts
  • Depreciation schedules
  • Financial statements
  • General ledger and journals
  • Invoices for property
  • IRS determination and approval letters
  • Systems records
  • Retirement and pension records
  • Tax returns and supporting documentation
  • Union agreements
  • Training manuals

Permanently

  • Bank statements and deposit slips
  • Canceled checks for payroll taxes and general expenses
  • Expense reports
  • Inventory records
  • Notes receivable (ledgers and schedules)
  • Payroll records
  • Payment vouchers
  • Purchase orders (purchasing department)
  • Sales records, including invoices
  • Subsidiary ledgers
  • Time documentation

7 years

  • Affirmative action plan documentation
  • Employee benefit plan summaries and documentation
  • Employment-at-will policies
  • Equal employment policies
  • Expired contracts
  • OSHA safety forms
  • Personnel files for terminated employees
  • Withholding tax statements

5 years or more

  • Collective bargaining agreements
  • Contracts
  • Employer policies
  • FMLA-related information
  • I-9 forms (employment eligibility verification forms)
  • Job descriptions
  • Merit and seniority system documentation
  • Payroll records
  • Wage rates

3 years

  • Employee applications
  • Employment records
  • Information regarding promotions, demotions, and transfers
  • Physical exam results
  • Résumés of job applicants

1 year

 

 

General Business Records

Keep

  • Articles of incorporation, bylaws, charter, and minute books
  • Capital stock and bond reports
  • Deeds, mortgages, and bills of sale
  • Insurance records (accident reports and claims)
  • Legal and tax correspondence
  • Patents, copyrights, and trademark registrations

Permanently

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