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In the United States, tax returns and supporting information have to be kept for many years. E.g., http://www.360financialliteracy.org/Topics/Taxes/FAQs-Calculators-More/How-long-should-I-keep-copies-of-my-tax-returns (mirror):

Generally, you should keep your tax returns and supporting information (i.e., receipts, W-2 forms, bank statements) for six to seven years. The IRS has three years to audit a return, or two years after you have paid the tax, whichever is later. However, if income was underreported by at least 25 percent, the IRS can look back six years, and there is no time limit for fraudulent tax returns.

Can I keep a scan of the tax returns and supporting information instead of the papers?

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    The citation is good, but as with most of the record retention advice, fails to mention, documentation is cost basis for stock, real estate, or any similar long term assets. I just sold a condo I owned for 20 years. And had a trail of paper going that far back. Cost basis for stock is also needed, as the basis reporting is a relatively recent change. – JoeTaxpayer Jun 7 '17 at 12:29
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Yes, an electronic scan is fine.

The original tax return, which you signed, was sent into the IRS. You don't have it any more. If you have a paper copy in your possession, it is just that; a copy. If you have an electronic copy, you can always print it out later if you need to look at it in the event of a discrepancy or an audit.

  • thanks. I assume a scan is fine for any supporting document as well? – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 6 '17 at 4:56
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    @FranckDernoncourt Yes. Many of these documents (receipts, tax forms, etc.) are sent electronically to you anyway, and as time goes on you will receive even fewer paper documents anyway. There is no requirement that you hold onto all that paper. – Ben Miller Jun 6 '17 at 5:07
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    These days, it's perfectly possible - perhaps even the norm - for the original tax return never to have existed on paper at all. Same for many expense receipts. – jamesqf Jun 6 '17 at 18:10
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According to TurboTax:

While the IRS is OK with digital records, it reminds taxpayers that they must able to be reproduced “in a legible, readable format” and that retention requirements for paper records also be applied to digital records.

So while you can keep scanned copies, those copies need to be legible.

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