Record Retention Guidelines for Businesses


Whether you are a seasoned or a new business owner, you have certainly learned one certainty: There is a lot of paperwork. Since running a successful business is a monumental accomplishment, the paperwork seems like a necessary evil. It is very tempting to throw away many of those papers and files that have taken up so much room for so long. On the other hand, it’s tempting to place every last piece of paper and every receipt into a box and save it for eternity. However tempting that may be, there are some papers you do need to keep, and some you need to destroy, and for varying amounts of time. In other words; it’s complicated.

This can be a very confusing task to go through, and you, like many other businesses, are probably thinking you should keep everything just in case. That can create overcrowding in your file cabinets of unnecessary and possibly sensitive information that can get misplaced, lost, or in the wrong hands.

Fortunately, in the modern era, there are companies that can help you store this information digitally. Many legal entities will accept digital copies as originals, although you should check with your attorney and insurance agent to ensure which can be kept digitally and which must remain in paper form.

In addition to giving you your office space back, the benefit of having your paperwork stored digitally is by a company is that it is backed up, secure, and systematically filed in one place so it is fast and easy to pull up the information. That means you get it when you need it.

The goal of this blog is to give you the information you need for retaining business records. There is a table below that gives general guidelines on how long to keep certain types of documents, but, before you skip down there, please take the following into consideration:

  • Please check with your lawyer, accountant, and insurance agent annually to see what they recommend.
  • It’s always good practice to keep your records for one and only one year longer than recommended.
  • Remember to destroy old records – shred paper; delete digital.
  • Make sure your records are filed and retrievable. According to an article in, Morgan Stanley was fined $13 million in 2017 for inadequate record-keeping, among other things. ( Whether digital or paper, have a good filing system.

Now that you have the basics down about what to keep and what to destroy – not throw away – destroy – in terms of records, here is a hand chart, put together by Grossman St. Amour, CPAs, PLLC.


Accounts payable7 years
Accounts receivable7 years
Audit reportsPermanent
Chart of accountsPermanent
Depreciation schedulesPermanent
Expense records7 years
Financial statements (annualPermanent
Fixed asset purchasesPermanent
General ledgerPermanent
Inventory records7 years (permanent for LIFO system)
Loan payment schedules7 years
Purchase orders7 years
Sales records7 years
Tax returnsPermanent


Bank reconciliations2 years
Bank statements2 years
Cancelled checks7 years (permanent for real estate)
Electronic payment records7 years




Board minutesPermanent
Bank statementsPermanent
Business licensesPermanent
Contracts – majorPermanent
Contracts – minorLife + 4 years
Insurance policiesLife + 3 years (verify with agent)
Shareholder recordsPermanent
Stock registersPermanent
Stock transactionsPermanent


Benefit plansPermanent
Employee files (former employees)7 years or state statute for lawsuit
Employment applications3 years
Employment taxes7 years
Payroll records7 years




Construction recordsPermanent
Lease payment recordsLife + 4 years
Leasehold improvementsPermanent
Real estate purchasesPermanent




Divorce documentsPermanent
Estate planning documentsPermanent
Home improvement receiptsOwnership period + 7 years
Home purchase documentsOwnership period + 7 years
Income tax returns and all supporting documents7 years
Insurance policiesLife of policy + 3 years
Loan documentsTerm of loan + 7 years
Retirement plan annual reportsPermanent


Record Retention Times

To get you started, here are some basic guidelines for the length to maintain your records. Laws vary by state so you should have your attorney review your program once it is completed. (Table from Records Nation

Business Records Retention Times
Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)
Articles of incorporationPermanent
Capital stock and bond recordsPermanent
Contracts & agreements (government construction, partnership, employment, labor)Permanent
Legal correspondencePermanent



Financial Records Retention Times

Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)
Auditors’ reportsPermanent
Bank debt deduction7
Bank deposit slips, reconciliations, statements4
Bills of lading4
Checks – cancelled4
Contracts – purchase and sales4*
Credit memos4
Depreciation records4*
Employee expense reports4
Employee payroll records (W-2, W-4, annual earnings records, etc.)6*
Financial statements — annualPermanent
Financial statements — interim4
Freight bills4
Internal reports (Work orders, sales reports, production reports)4
Inventory lists4
Invoices – Sales and cash register receipts, merchandise purchases4
Invoices — purchases (permanent assets)4*
General ledgerPermanent
General, cash receipts, cash disbursement, and purchase journals.Permanent
Payroll journal4
Petty cash vouchers4
Subsidiary ledgers (accounts receivable, accounts payable, etc.)6
Time cards and daily time reports4
Worthless securities7



Personnel Records Retention Times

Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)
Personnel Accident Report/Injury Claim11
Attendance Records4
COBRA Records3
Employee Benefit Plans2*
I-9 Forms1*
Medical and Exposure Records – related to toxic substances40
OSHA Training Documentation3
OSHA Logs6
Personnel files6*
* Retention periods begin after termination,



Inventions and Copyrights Retention Times

Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)


Insurance Records Retention Times
Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)
Accident reports6
Fire inspection reports6
Group disability records6
Insurance policies6 *
Safety records6
Settled insurance claims4 *
* Retention periods begin after termination, expiration, disposal, etc. of item.



Real Estate Records Retention Times

Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)
Mortgages6 years
Contracts6 years



Pension/Profit Sharing Records Retention Times

Type of RecordRetention Period (Years)
Actuarial reportsPermanent
Associated ledgers and journalsPermanent
Financial statementsPermanent
IRS approval letterPermanent
Plan and trust agreementPermanent


3SG Plus is a leader in the digital transformation industry. The experts at 3SG Plus provide transformative business solutions that streamline operations, reduce cost, and help organizations of all sizes across many verticals meet their strategic goals and revenue objectives. 3SG Plus innovative solutions enable businesses to create opportunities for growth, enhance security, reduce liability, and improve overall outcomes for employees and customers alike.

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