How long do the retention requirements apply?
According to the law, you don’t have to keep all documents for the same length of time. So that you don’t lose track of things and, above all, don’t waste space unnecessarily, you can find out in the following table what you need to keep and how long:
|6 years||ten years|
|Business letters and commercial letters received||Books and records|
|dispatched business letters and commercial letters||Inventories|
|all documents that are relevant for taxation||Annual accounts|
|Audit reports||Situation reports|
|Loan documents after the contract expires||Opening balances with work instructions and organizational documents|
|Gift certificates||Accounting documents|
|Loan documents after the contract expires||Documents according to ATLAS|
|Salary slips for interim, special and final payments||Bank receipts|
|Dunning notices||Contribution statements to social security agencies|
|Price lists||Pay slips as accounting slips|
Tip: There are so many different operating documents. In an emergency, create folders that you subdivide into retention periods, then you will immediately know what can slowly find its way into the shredder.
How do you have to keep emails?
There are clear rules for the retention period for e-mail, images, e-bills and other electronic transmissions. Although these can also be printed in paper format, they must also be saved as a file in such a way that they cannot be changed .
You have to know that the data must be stored in such a way that it can also be evaluated by machine.
Especially electronic invoices must be given special consideration. Many now create and receive their invoices electronically . There is no longer an original in paper form here. However, it must be guaranteed that the invoice is genuine and legible. The origin of these must also be verifiable.
According to §14 Abs. 3 UStG, two options are particularly preferable:
- Electronic data exchange with which the authenticity as well as the origin and of course the integrity of the data contained is guaranteed.
- Qualified digital signature according to the signature law
In 2011, however, it was also determined that the entrepreneur himself can determine how to ensure the legibility, authenticity and integrity of the invoices . What is not possible is to put an electronic invoice on paper, as this changes its form. This media break is not welcomed, which is why the electronic invoices are preferred to be stored on a data medium. You are welcome to include the printed paper format with your documents, but you must keep the electronic file with the content.
What is the situation like with IT access by tax authorities?
The tax authority may only request access to stored data that is also relevant for taxation. The retention period for e-mails and other documents is also divided over a period of 6 to 10 years, depending on the type. You do not have to give the tax authorities access to everything. But if you refuse, it can quickly be interpreted negatively. If in doubt, consult your lawyer.
When does a retention requirement begin?
The retention period for delivery notes and other documents does not always begin when the receipt is received. The law stipulates that the period begins on the 1st of the following year with reference to the date on the receipt. For you, this means that if you have completed your 2017 annual accounts in mid-2018, the deadline will start on January 1, 2019. It will end after 10 years, i.e. on December 31, 2028.
Note: Remember, however, that the date now depends on the length of the retention period, i.e. 6 years or 10 years.
What are the consequences of a breach of the retention requirement?
If you want to save yourself a lot of trouble, do not throw away any documents before the retention period expires. It can happen that you have enormous disadvantages in civil proceedings because you do not have the necessary documents as evidence.
In addition, you are violating your accounting and storage obligations , which will be punished by the tax office. In this case you again lack the evidential value and the tax office can carry out an estimate of the tax base according to §162 AO. It can also happen to you that the lack of documents is assessed as tax evasion . In such a case it can happen to you that the whole thing has criminal consequences and these usually end in fines or imprisonment. Tax evasion in particular is now taken very seriously and punished really hard. You certainly don’t want to risk that, which is why proper office management is really essential.
It is the nightmare of many traders and yet it has to be. Not only proper bookkeeping, but also the proper filing and storage of the most important business documents are simply the be-all and end-all of being able to run a business properly. If all of this becomes too much for you or you can no longer see through the paper jungle, get help from an experienced clerk or ask your tax advisor for help. Many tax advisors offer this service and collect all the documents neatly sorted for a tax year. At the end of the tax year you will get the files back and put them in your archive and the tax advisor will start collecting the documents for the current tax year.