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What are the legal guidelines on document retention requirements?

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Quick Answer

Legal guidelines for the amount of time to keep documents vary depending on the type of document, according to the Smead Manufacturing Company. Some items are permanent documents that should never be thrown out. Others, such as tax support records, should be kept as long as legally required.

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Full Answer

Documentation that should be stored on a permanent basis, preferably in a fireproof safe, include the following: legal documents; vital records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and adoption documents; retirement and pension records; and trust documents, reports the Smead Manufacturing Company. Because businesses are controlled by stricter regulations than individuals, most business records also need a permanent storage space or file. Such records include annual financial statements; corporate licenses and certifications; patents, trademarks and registration applications; fixed-asset additions documentation; and purchase receipts. Because many business industries have their own legal standards, requirements may vary according to the business.

Tax supporting documents need to be kept for at least six years because the Internal Revenue Service can go back six years to audit old returns for mistakes, says the Smead Manufacturing Company. Such documents include bank, personnel and payroll records; mortgages, deeds and leases on sold property; papers on sold stocks and bonds; and travel and entertainment receipts. Personal documents that are not tax related should be kept for at least thee years.

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