Running a business equals lots of paperwork. You may find it tempting to hold onto every scrap of paper you have, just in case. Holding onto documents for too long opens your business to fraud risks, like having fraudsters access your account information, client information, and more. Some business documents can be shredded fairly quickly after their use, while others you should hold onto for a while.
Here’s a breakdown of common business-related documents and how often you should be shredding them.
Documents You Can Eventually Shred
Bank and Credit Statements
Hold onto your bank and credit card statements for a year¹. A lot financial institutions will have your statements available online. If that’s the case for your business, the feel free to shred those statements even sooner. The only time you may want to hold onto these documents for longer is if they are needed to support your tax returns.
The timeline for tax documents is pretty set in stone: keep them for seven years². Keeping all of your tax documents for at least seven years allows for time in case you need to dispute something with the IRS. This includes both your actual tax return and any supporting documents for that tax year.
Human Resource Documents
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if you have more than 15 employees you legally have to keep all employee records for at least a year³. This includes everything from job applications, promotions, employee tests, layoffs, even documentation for applicants you don’t hire. Certain employee health records need to be kept for three to five years, so consult your HR Representative on those timelines. Often, accountants and lawyers will recommend you keep employee records longer than one year, especially if an employee ever made a claim against your business.
Employment Tax Records
The IRS recommends you keep all employee tax records for at least four years. This timeframe is to protect you as a business if an employee were to question something in the future. Employee documents include employee identification numbers, employee personal information, salary and payment information, employee tax returns, W-4s, and benefit records.
Property Purchase Documents
Any documentation for business property should be held onto for at least seven years after you no longer own the property⁴. This includes purchase and repair receipts for physical land and building real estate, vehicles, and even actual business equipment. While you own the item you’ll want to monitor it’s worth and depreciation. After seven years, your time frame to file tax limitations expires, meaning you no longer need to keep the documents. The one exception is to keep all deeds and titles long term, as they are legal contracts.
If you have paperwork with customer information then you should probably shred that too. The first thing to consider is what customer personal information your documents have. Then think about how long you need to keep that information on hand, possibly for a future dispute or refund. Regardless of the information, you should always keep private customer information in a secure location. It could be bad news for both you and the customer if that information ended up in the wrong hands.
Documents to Always Hold Onto
Internal Financial Records
Always keep a copy of internal business records you build and maintain yourself. These include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Each of these documents can help you monitor long term business success. Also, they can be helpful for future audits or if customers present questions.
Business Corporation and LLC Documents
These documents are the foundation to your business and should never be discarded. Instead, keep them in a safe place, and possibly multiple copies. These kind of documents include business bylaws, article of organization, shareholder agreements and lists, annual reports, and any trademark, copyright, and patent documentation.
LegalZoom suggests holding onto any legally binding documents long term. This includes any lawsuits or claims made against your business. Also, make sure to hold onto any deeds and titles you own, as well as long-term contracts with vendors and businesses. It may also be a good idea to keep all of your correspondence and documents related to your lawyer, as that may come in handy in your future.
As always, if you have any questions about what documents you should hold onto, consult with your tax advisor or legal adviser.
 How Long Should You Keep Your Bank Statements?, Investopia.com
 How long should I keep records?, IRS.gov
 Recordkeeping Requirements, EEOC.gov
 Business Documents: What to Keep and What to Shred, Legalzoom.com