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How to Organize Past Years' Tax Documents


Purchase a plastic or heavy cardboard filing box from an office supply store. Also, purchase some 12x15 inch manila envelopes. Be sure the storage box is big enough to fit these envelopes.


Gather the tax documents and supporting paperwork as soon as the taxes are done. This is also a good time to file anything else you kept throughout the year related to your finances, such as receipts, bills and bank statements.


Label one envelope "tax returns, all years" and place all tax returns in this single envelope. They can be kept indefinitely and are easily accessible down the road when applying for loans or other special cases.


Mark another envelope with the tax year, not the current year. If more than one envelope is needed, mark the first one "one of two," the second one "two of two" and continue this pattern. Create a separate envelope for each tax year.


Put the supporting documents into the envelope for the appropriate tax year. You can organize the materials you are putting in the envelope, but it is not necessary. There is a good chance you will not have to get back into this envelope unless you are audited.


Keep any documents that pertain to assets, including house and cars, or investments out of the envelope. You may need to access these documents when you sell the investment.


Store the envelopes in the box in chronological order. Label the outside of the box "tax return documents." Also indicate a beginning year, and when the box fills up, the ending year. Place the box some place out of the way where you will not have to see it again until next year.

Tips and Warnings

  • Maintain personal tax records for a minimum of three years, and business records for a minimum of seven years. Supporting documentation can be thrown away after three years.
  • Use a permanent marker to write on the envelopes and boxes. Pens or anything else could fade to the point where they are not legible. Be sure to write big so that it is easy to read.
  • Always organize these tax documents as soon as you are done with the taxes. If you do not, there is a good chance it will never get done or they will get lost or mixed up with other papers.
  • Never assume you are safe from the IRS if you have filed false, fraudulent or no taxes. There is not a statute of limitations on these. They can audit you at any point they suspect this.

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