Next year’s tax return starts with good recordkeeping

As the 2011 tax filing season comes to an end, now is a good time to begin thinking about next year’s returns. While it may seem early to be preparing for 2012, taking some time now to review your recordkeeping will pay off when it comes time to file next year.

Taxpayers are required to keep accurate, permanent books and records so as to be able to determine the various types of income, gains, losses, costs, expenses and other amounts that affect their income tax liability for the year. The IRS generally does not require taxpayers to keep records in a particular way, and recordkeeping does not have to be complicated. However, there are some specific recordkeeping requirements that taxpayers should keep in mind throughout the year.

Business Expense Deductions

A business can choose any recordkeeping system suited to their business that clearly shows income and expenses. The type of business generally affects the type of records a business needs to keep for federal tax purposes. Purchases, sales, payroll, and other transactions that incur in a business generate supporting documents. Supporting documents include sales slips, paid bills, invoices, receipts, deposit slips, and canceled checks. Supporting documents for business expenses should show the amount paid and that the amount was for a business expense. Documents for expenses include canceled checks; cash register tapes; account statements; credit card sales slips; invoices; and petty cash slips for small cash payments.

The Cohan rule. A taxpayer generally has the burden of proving that he is entitled to deduct an amount as a business expense or for any other reason. However, a taxpayer whose records or other proof is not adequate to substantiate a claimed deduction may be allowed to deduct an estimated amount under the so-called Cohan rule. Under this rule, if a taxpayer has no records to provide the amount of a business expense deduction, but a court is satisfied that the taxpayer actually incurred some expenses, the court may make an allowance based on an estimate, if there is some rational basis for doing so.

However, there are special recordkeeping requirements for travel, transportation, entertainment, gifts and listed property, which includes passenger automobiles, entertainment, recreational and amusement property, computers and peripheral equipment, and any other property specified by regulation. The Cohan rule does not apply to those expenses. For those items, taxpayers must substantiate each element of an expenditure or use of property by adequate records or by sufficient evidence corroborating the taxpayer’s own statement.



  • Record keeping is not just for businesses. The IRS recommends that individuals keep the following records:
  • Copies of Tax Returns. Old tax returns are useful in preparing current returns and are necessary when filing an amended return.
  • Adoption Credit and Adoption Exclusion. Taxpayers should maintain records to support any adoption credit or adoption assistance program exclusion.
  • Employee Expenses. Travel, entertainment and gift expenses must be substantiated through appropriate proof. Receipts should be retained and a log may be kept for items for which there is no receipt. Similarly, written records should be maintained for business mileage driven, business purpose of the trip and car expenses for business use of a car.
  • Business Use of Home. Records must show the part of the taxpayer’s home used for business and that such use is exclusive. Records are also needed to show the depreciation and expenses for the business part of the home.
  • Capital Gains and Losses. Records must be kept showing the cost of acquiring a capital asset, when the asset was acquired, how the asset was used, and, if sold, the date of sale, the selling price and the expenses of the sale.
  • Basis of Property. Homeowners must keep records of the purchase price, any purchase expenses, the cost of home improvements and any basis adjustments, such as depreciation and deductible casualty losses.
  • Basis of Property Received as a Gift. A donee must have a record of the donor’s adjusted basis in the property and the property’s fair market value when it is given as a gift. The donee must also have a record of any gift tax the donor paid.
  • Service Performed for Charitable Organizations. The taxpayer should keep records of out-of-pocket expenses in performing work for charitable organizations to claim a deduction for such expenses.
  • Pay Statements. Taxpayers with deductible expenses withheld from their paychecks should keep their pay statements for a record of the expenses.
  • Divorce Decree. Taxpayers deducting alimony payments should keep canceled checks or financial account statements and a copy of the written separation agreement or the divorce, separate maintenance or support decree.

Don’t forget receipts. In addition, the IRS recommends that the following receipts be kept:

  • Proof of medical and dental expenses;
  • Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, and canceled checks showing the amount of estimated tax payments;
  • Statements, notes, canceled checks and, if applicable, Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, showing interest paid on a mortgage;
  • Canceled checks or receipts showing charitable contributions, and for contributions of $250 or more, an acknowledgment of the contribution from the charity or a pay stub or other acknowledgment from the employer if the contribution was made by deducting $250 or more from a single paycheck;
  • Receipts, canceled checks and other documentary evidence that evidence miscellaneous itemized deductions; and
  • Pay statements that show the amount of union dues paid.

Electronic Records/Electronic Storage Systems

Records maintained in an electronic storage system, if compliant with IRS specifications, constitute records as required by the Code. These rules apply to taxpayers that maintain books and records by using an electronic storage system that either images their hard-copy books and records or transfers their computerized books and records to an electronic storage media, such as an optical disk.

The electronic storage rules apply to all matters under the jurisdiction of the IRS including, but not limited to, income, excise, employment and estate and gift taxes, as well as employee plans and exempt organizations. A taxpayer’s use of a third party, such as a service bureau or time-sharing service, to provide an electronic storage system for its books and records does not relieve the taxpayer of the responsibilities described in these rules. Unless otherwise provided under IRS rules and regulations, all the requirements that apply to hard-copy books and records apply as well to books and records that are stored electronically under these rules.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.

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