If you’ve got a mountain of paper bills and statements piling up at home, you may be wondering what you need to keep and what can go in the shredder. When it comes to bank statements, you typically need to have access to them for at least three years. However, in some cases, you’ll need them for up to seven years.
Learn more about why it’s necessary to keep bank statements, for how long, and what happens if you don’t.
- The IRS and most states can audit tax returns for three years from the filing date, so your bank statements need to be accessible for at least that long.
- You may need to keep bank statements for seven years if you invest or if you are suspected of underreporting your income.
- Bank statements for the past two years may be necessary for filing taxes, getting loans, and other financial moves that require a verification of income.
How Long Should You Keep Bank Statements?
In most cases, you’ll need access to your bank statements for at least three years (but possibly up to seven) as proof in audit situations. Bank statements of the past year should be kept for tax-filing purposes, but you may also need them to get a loan or rent a home.
Banks are required by federal law to keep most records on file for at least five years, and many keep members’ account statements available for up to seven. Check with your bank to see how long it will keep your records. If an audit or another need for a statement comes up within that time period, you can order them from your bank rather than keeping them on hand—although you may need to pay a small fee for older statements.
Why Should You Keep Bank Statements?
One of the main reasons you need bank statements is to have proof of an item of income, deduction, or credit for the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS has a period of limitations that applies to income tax returns, and it limits the amount of time you have to amend your return, claim a refund, or claim a credit. Additionally, the period of limitations restricts the time the IRS has to assess additional tax.
The IRS’ period of limitations for taxes owed is three years from the date you file your original return. To claim a refund or credit, it’s three years from the date you filed the return or two years from the date you paid the tax owed, whichever is later.
In many cases, your state’s period of limitations will coincide with the IRS deadline of three years, but there could be some exceptions where you live. Be sure to check your state’s laws to ensure your statements are accessible for the audit period.
If you need to amend your tax return to claim a credit or refund but you can’t access your bank statements, you may not be able to prove you deserve that credit or refund. Further, if the IRS assesses additional tax you know you don’t owe, you may need your bank statements to prove why you don’t owe it.
Other Reasons To Hold On to Bank Statements
Keep bank statements for future lenders, landlords, and others with whom you’d like to start a financial relationship. When determining if you can afford the payments for a loan, a rental home, or something else, they may request to see your bank statements to verify your income.
Bank statements can also come in handy to show proof of purchases made by debit card, check, or bank transfer should someone claim you owe them money. And if you need to use a product warranty or file an insurance claim, a bank statement could help by confirming you made the connected purchases.
When Should You Keep Bank Statements Longer?
In some cases, the IRS suggests you keep records longer than three years due to the amount of time the agency can audit you.
- If you pay employment tax, you’ll need to keep the records for four years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.
- If income is not reported and it accounts for more than 25% of your gross income, or if the IRS suspects this is the case, it can audit you anytime for six years.
- If you report a capital loss due to bad debts or worthless securities, you should keep your records for seven years.
If you didn’t file a return one year, or if you filed a return the IRS believes is fraudulent, there is no limit on when you can be audited.
If your taxes are relatively simple and you’ve filed them accurately, you likely won’t have to worry about keeping banking statements beyond three years. However, if you have more complicated finances, including investments, it’s a good idea to ensure you can access them for seven.
Organizing Bank Statements and Other Documents
Having a way to store and keep track of your statements can make it easy to access information if and when you need it.
If you prefer to keep years of physical statements on file, you’ll need to have some space to do so. Here are a few recordkeeping tips for hard-copy records:
- Purchase a dedicated file cabinet for your financial documents.
- Separate the documents by year.
- Organize the documents by type and category (personal bank statements, business bank statements, investment statements, credit card statements, etc.).
- File them in chronological order so it’s easy to find what you need quickly.
- Keep the most important documents in a fireproof safe.
Once you no longer need statements, shred them to protect sensitive information.
With electronic statements being more and more common, you may opt to keep virtual records. However, should you decide to go that route and keep them saved on a single device, you run the risk of losing records if the device crashes, gets lost, or is stolen. Consider backing up records on a secure secondary storage device or in a secure cloud environment.
Another option with digital statements is contacting your bank to find out how long it keeps statements, so you can access them on demand as needed. Often, banks enable you to access, download, and print a few years’ worth of statements through online banking. If you need a statement that isn’t available online but it is still within the time period your bank keeps records, you can usually order it. Time frames and fees can vary by institution and account type, so check before going this route.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long should you keep your tax returns?
Typically, you should keep your tax returns for at least three years from your file date, as that is the IRS’s period of limitations to assess additional tax. However, if you didn’t pay your taxes within one year of filing, keep a return on hand for two years from the date you paid them in full.
The IRS can audit you for up to six years if it suspects you underreported your income by at least 25%. Keep your tax returns for seven years if you file a loss for bad debt or worthless securities.
How long should you keep pay stubs?
Pay stubs should be kept for at least 12 months so you can accurately file your taxes the following year. However, according to the IRS, you may want to keep your pay stubs on record for three years to back up your tax returns in case you are audited.
How long should you keep credit card statements?
If you use a credit card for business, make sure you can access the records for at least three years to serve as proof (if needed) for your tax returns.
For personal credit cards, it’s best to keep statements for 12 months to verify charges made to you, services you paid for, business expenses, charitable donations, or—if disputed—an on-time loan payment.