Yes, keep your old tax returns.
One of the benefits of keeping your tax returns from year to year is that you can look at last year's return while preparing this year's. It's a handy reference and reminds you of deductions you may have forgotten.
Another reason to keep your old tax returns is that there may be information in an old return that you need later.
Audits and your old tax returns
Here's a reason to keep your old returns that may surprise you. If the IRS calls you in for an audit, the examiner will more than likely ask you to bring your tax returns for the last few years. You'd think the IRS would have them handy, but that's not the way it works. More than likely, your old returns are stored in a computer, in a storage area, or on microfilm somewhere. Usually, your IRS auditor has just a report detailing the reason the computer picked your return for the audit. So having your old returns allows you to easily comply with your auditor's request.
How long should I keep my old tax returns?
You may want to keep your old returns forever, especially if they contain information such as the tax basis of your house. Probably, though, keeping them for the previous three or four years is sufficient.
If you throw out an old return that you find you need, you can get a copy of your most recent returns (usually the last six years) from the IRS. Ask the IRS to send you Form 4506, Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form. When you complete the form, send it, with the required small fee, to the IRS Service Center where you filed your return.
Unless you own or operate your own business, partnership, or S corporation, recordkeeping does not have to be fancy.
Your recordkeeping system can be as casual as storing receipts in a box until the end of the year, then transferring the records, along with a copy of the tax return you file, to an envelope or file folder for longer storage.
To make it easy on yourself, you might want to separate your records and receipts into categories, and file them in labeled envelopes or folders. It's also helpful to keep each year's records separate and clearly labeled.
If you have your own business, or if you're a partner in a partnership or an S corporation shareholder, you might find it valuable to hire a bookkeeper or accountant.
Do you contribute to charity?
If you donate to a charity, you must have receipts to prove your donation.
Starting in 2007, contributions in cash or by check aren't deductible at all unless substantiated by one of the following:
- A bank record that shows the name of the qualified organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution. Bank records may include: a canceled check, a bank or credit union statement or a credit card statement.
- A receipt (or letter or other written communication) from the qualified organization showing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
- Payroll deduction records. The payroll records must include a pay stub, Form W-2 or other document furnished by the employer that shows the date and the amount of the contribution, and a pledge card or other document prepared by or for the qualified organization that shows the name of the organization.
Besides deducting your cash and non-cash charitable donations, you can also deduct your mileage to and from charity work. If you deduct mileage for your charitable efforts, keep detailed records of how you figured your deduction.
Are you employed by someone else?
If you work for someone else and spend your own money on company business, keep good records of your business expense receipts. You will need these records to either get a reimbursement from your employer or to prove business-related deductions that you take on your taxes.
Do you have income from tips?
If you make tips from your job, the hand of the IRS reaches here too, and if you are ever audited, the IRS will be interested in records of how much you made in tips.
Do you own property?
If you own property, be particularly careful to keep receipts or some other proof of all your expenses, especially for repairs and improvements.
Do you hire domestic workers?
It's important to keep accurate information about who works for you, including nannies and housekeepers, when and where they worked for you, and how much you paid them for the work.
Do you have a business?
If you have a business, you must keep very careful records of all your business expenses, including vehicle mileage, entertainment expenses, and travel expenses.
If you have a business, just because you have cash in your pocket doesn't mean you're in the black on the books. Keeping up-to-date records of all transactions and costs will not only help you tax wise, but it will also tell you if your business is actually profitable.
Do you travel for your business?
If you travel for business, keep good receipts and logs of all your travel expenses, including those for meals and entertainment. You will need this information whether you work for yourself or for someone else.