How long to keep tax records?

QTA Consultants, Ltd./Renata Bliumaite

With minimalism being on Millennial agenda, we talk about removing items from your house to reduce clutter. But what about copious tax-return records from days of yore?

Strategy: Keep tax records for at least three years after the filing date. That’s the basic statuteof-limitations period for the IRS to audit your return, but consider it to be the bare minimum. Hold on to your records longer if you’re riskaverse.

The three-year period is extended to six years if gross income is understated by more than 25%. And there is no statute of limitations for tax fraud.

n addition, the length that you keep tax records may depend on the type of records. Here are several common situations.

Supporting documents: You probably have written evidence that supports claims made on your tax return, such as receipts, expense logs, bank statements and sales records. Keep these for at least the three-year period.

Real estate: Hold on to these until three years have passed from the time you sell the home. Reason: The records, including expenditures for home improvements, can help establish your basis for the purposes of determining taxable gain or loss. This may preserve the full amount of the home sale gain exclusion (up to $250,000 for single filers; up to $500,000 for joint filers).

Bad debts: Generally, you have three years to amend your return, the same as the IRS audit period. But you can take up to seven years to stake your claim to deductions for bad debts or worthless securities. Don’t be so quick to shred these records.

Securities: You must report transactions involving stocks, bonds and other securities. Maintain detailed records of acquisitions and sales, including dates, amounts, prices, dividend reinvestments and investment expenses (e.g., broker fees). Hold on to the records while you own the investments, plus the three-year statute of limitations.

IRAs: This will seem never-ending. You should keep records of IRAs, including required minimum distributions (RMDs) and payouts from inherited accounts. Also, maintain records for Roth IRAs that provide tax-exempt distributions. Again, don’t discard records for at least three years after the account is emptied out.

Tip: It’s usually better to be safe than sorry. Err on the side of keeping tax records a little longer than legally required.