How long should I keep my accounting documents?

You may have asked yourself the question on many occasions? While some records are kept for an eternity, other documents already end up in the (digital) bin after a few years. Many self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs keep their accounts for as long as possible, but what exactly are the legal periods and guidelines?

General rule

The answer from the Federal Public Service Finance is as brief as it is clear: you must retain accounting documents for a period of 7 years following the taxable period to which these documents correspond. This applies to all supporting documents that you used to substantiate your taxable income.

According to the general rule, you can therefore safely throw away 2011 invoices from 1 January 2019.

Exceptions

Still, you will do well to keep some tax documents longer.

Investment invoices

You recently purchased a new machine that will be written off in your accounts over several years. You must keep the invoice for this purchase up to 7 years after the year of the last depreciation. If the machine was written off in March 2021, you should retain the invoice until the end of 2028.

Previous losses

If you took the option to deduct a tax loss carried forward in a subsequent return, no problem, but you need to keep the accounts of the year in which the loss occurred. More specifically, as long as the 7-year period is running for the accounting year in which you carried the loss forward.

Real estate

For all documents referring to immovable property, the VAT code provides for a compulsory retention period of 15 years. After all, the government has the right to revise the deducted VAT during that period. Real estate is often depreciated over an even longer period, which justifies retaining these documents.           

Student contracts

Hiring students is often a convenient way to bridge busy periods. A fiscal fact: after 5 years, no need to keep student contracts in your accounts.

Paper or digital records?

Both options are possible. You can, therefore, digitise all paper archives without any problems. A word of caution though! The Federal Public Service Finance only accepts digital invoices if the contents of the invoice remain unchanged, the identity of the supplier is clear and the document is fully legible.

Conclusion

When the tax authorities are at your door, you should have all the accounting documents at hand to make sure the audit will go a smoothly as possible. So, keep in mind the statutory periods for retaining records.

Updated 10/04/2019

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