(msn.com) — You may not be ready to go entirely paperless, but chances are good you’re hanging on to a lot more dead trees than you should. Now is a great time to remedy that. After you’ve filed your tax return, you can get serious about reducing your financial clutter — now and in the future. Here’s what you need to know:
There’s nothing special about scraps of paper. The Internal Revenue Service accepts electronic records, so you can scan receipts and download documents rather than hanging on to the paper versions. Often, you don’t even need to download, now that many financial institutions offer quick access to statements online. My bank, for example, gives free online access to my statements for the past seven years. My credit card issuers offer the same for six to seven years, while my brokerage offers free access for 10 years. Check with your institutions to see about their policies.
“Seven” is a magic number. That’s how long the IRS typically has to audit your tax return. Your biggest risk is in the first three years after a return is due; the 2010 return that’s due this April can be audited under normal circumstances until April 2014. The IRS can extend that deadline by three years, to April 2017, if it suspects you underreported your income by 25% or more. There’s no deadline if you committed fraud or failed to file a return, but we’ll assume you’re not a crook and have stayed up-to-date. If you write off a bad debt or claim a tax break for worthless securities, you need to keep proof for seven years after filing — or until April 2018, for your 2010 return.