Keeping well-organized records makes the tax return preparation process much easier, and it significantly helps provide answers to the IRS in the unlikely event you are audited. Use this checklist to assist you in determining what documents you will need during the tax preparation process and how long you will need to keep those documents. You can also download a copy of our Tax Document Checklist that contains many of the common documents need during the tax preparation process.
What records do I need to prepare my taxes?
The Internal Revenue Code requires all taxpayers to keep and maintain records that substantiate any: (i) item of income, (ii) deduction, or (iii) credit appearing on your return. Common records most people will need during the tax preparation process include:
Social security cards for all individuals listed on your return (e.g., spouse and dependents)
Copy of your tax return for the previous year (not required but very helpful)
Bank account and routing numbers (for direct deposit of your refund)
Identity Protection PIN (but only if one has been issued to either you, your spouse, or your dependents)
IRS Notice 1444 (confirming economic impact payment or stimulus amount)
Form 8332 (if applicable)---allows a non-custodial parent to claim a child as a dependent on his or her return
Wage and earning statements for each job (Form W-2)
Non-employee compensation (for independent contractors) (Form 1099-NEC)
Miscellaneous income (Form 1099)
Schedule K-1 (profit/loss allocation for a partner in a partnership)
Records for any tip or other cash income received (e.g., bank statements or personal ledgers)
Pension & annuity income (Form 1099-R)
Social security income (SSA-1099)
Unemployment income (Form 1099-G)
Interest income (Form 1099-INT)
Records of estimated tax payments made (Form 1040-ES)
All business expense receipts
Medical expense records
Health insurance expense statement (Form 1095-A)
Qualifying tuition expense statement (Form 1098-T)
Home mortgage interest statement (Form 1098)
Student loan interest statement (Form 1098-E)
Real property & personal property tax statements
Contribution statements for retirement & other savings (Forms 5498)
Receipts for qualified education expenses
Childcare expense records
Receipts for charitable donations made to qualifying organizations
Records showing amounts driven for charitable or medical purposes
Start gathering these documents now so you'll be ready to go when tax season starts!
How long do I need to keep my records?
Records must be kept for as long as they become material in the administration of any provision of the IRC. This generally means that you are required to keep these records until the period of limitation expires for a given tax return.
Period of Limitations for Tax Assessments:
3 years - The IRS generally has 3 years from the date you filed your return to assess taxes against you. Returns filed before the due date are treated as filed on the due date. Note, if you file a return and report owing taxes, the assessment occurs when the IRS accepts the return.
6 years - If you do not report income that you should have reported, and the unreported income is more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return (or it’s attributable to foreign financial assets and is more than $5,000), then the IRS has 6 years from the date you filed the return to assess any additional taxes.
No limit - The IRS can make a tax assessment against at any time if you file a fraudulent return or if you do not file a return. Said differently, there is no period of limitations to assess taxes under these two circumstances.
Period of Limitations for Refund Claims:
3 years - You generally have 3 years from the date you filed your return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, to submit a claim for a refund.
7 years - You have 7 years from the date you filed a return to submit a claim for refund if it's one relating to a bad debt deduction or loss from worthless securities.
About the Author
Attorney Jordan D. Howlette is the President of MyTaxRights, LLC and the managing-member of JD Howlette Law, LLC, a civil litigation firm that represents individuals and businesses involved in tax disputes with the IRS, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), and various state departments of revenue. A former trial attorney with the DOJ’s Tax Division, Jordan leverages his extensive background in tax litigation to educate others about their federal tax rights and responsibilities. Each tax season, Jordan also volunteers as a tax coach with the Center for the Advancement of Tax Equity, where he teaches others how to self-prepare and file their taxes through the non-profit's free tax clinics.