Financial Record Keeping: Best Practices for Small Businesses

Financial record keeping is essential for smooth tax preparation. Keeping the process of recording all financial transactions thorough, accurate, and precisely helps a business succeed and helps its finances meet all regulations and the required standards of operation.

This article will suggest six financial record keeping best practices for small business owners to simplify their bookkeeping. 

Incorporate a good document management system into your business

As you grow your business, your business documents and files expand, too. Instead of stacking your desk and drawers with piles of paper, try to go paperless so you can access your records easily, at any time, from anywhere. 

You can then implement a digital document management system to organize all your business documents. Then set a document control system that specifies how often to review and update documents.

Back up and secure your records

We live in a time where data breaches and natural disasters are rampant. Take time to back up and secure your records to avoid catastrophe. Whether you store your records on paper or a hard drive, remember to back them up in at least two places. 

Digitizing all your important documents is also a good idea as it protects them from being lost, stolen, or destroyed. However, storing records digitally increases the risk of theft. So when you store your business records online, secure your account with a unique and strong password, and enable two-factor authentication.

Understand the lifecycle of records 

Every record will have its own lifespan, and some financial documents must be kept for a certain amount of time. It’s necessary to ensure that all retention and disposal schedules are correctly applied to each type of record generated in each department. 

Here are the essential documents you need to keep and the time you need to keep them.

Seven years or longer

When it comes to taxes, it’s a good idea to preserve any tax records for at least seven years. The IRS’s audit statute of limitations is three years. In some situations, they can go back as far as six or seven years (e.g., if you underreported your income by 25% or more.) State statutes of limitations vary, so you can consult a tax professional to understand your state’s limitations.

You should also keep for up to seven years any records that corroborate the information on your taxes, such as your W-2 and 1099 forms, receipts, and payments. Keep receipts for any assets you own for as long as you own them, such as receipts for home renovation work. 

One year

Records that you need to keep for at least one year are the following: 

  • Non-tax-related bank and credit card statements
  • Investment statements
  • Paycheck
  • Medical bills 
  • Receipts for large purchases

If you need to support your current-year tax preparation or have an unresolved insurance dispute, don’t throw away these records for at least a year!

Many banks and credit card companies now provide electronic statements, so it’s not necessary to keep paper versions on hand. However, if you still want to keep a copy of those records, you can digitize them by scanning them with a receipt scanner before discarding the original paper documents.

Less than a year

Some documents do not need to be kept in your home for an extended period of time. Don’t bother about keeping receipts unless they’re related to:

  • Product warranties
  • Your tax returns
  • Insurance claims

You can throw away most monthly bills after paying them or after they have been deposited into your bank statement. If you need to go back to verify anything later, see if you can access past invoices through online account access. Many service providers store past bills and invoices available online for the past few months or longer.

Start a new file after each year

Starting a new file at the start of each new year is a simple method that can help you save a lot of time and make going through your information much easier. 

It will also make it easier for you to remove records you no longer need for whatever reason, such as when the five-year retention period has expired.

Keep records of transactions for bank reconciliations

Bank reconciliations help small businesses detect errors and better understand their financial situation. It’s also a good opportunity to double-check that you have records for all of your business dealings.

Some accounting software allows users to attach documents to each transaction, so anyone who opens your books can view the associated record. It’s good to match every transaction in your accounting software to a record during your monthly bank reconciliation. Make sure you have a corresponding invoice, receipt, or contract as you go through your company activities.

You might also be interested in: 

Choose accounting software that can generate records

Today, many accounting software can generate reports from customers’ invoices. For example, Shoeboxed, the painless receipt scanning and expense management app tailored for freelancers and small business owners, can take over the heavy task of preparing reports from your plate. 

After scanning your receipts with OCR engines, Shoeboxed will automatically create clear and comprehensive reports so you can send them out for approval immediately. Shoeboxed can help small business owners save time and effort, allowing them to spend more time on the business’s core. 

The bottom line

Keeping financial records properly can be challenging at first. Still, as long as you keep these financial record keeping best practices in hand, you’ll be able to run your business smoothly even if you don’t have an accounting background. The most difficult part is collecting the information. After you’ve formed the collecting habit, the rest will be in place. 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Shoeboxed blog for more helpful accounting and bookkeeping knowledge and best practices for small business owners! 

About Shoeboxed

Shoeboxed is a receipt management application that turns your receipts and business documents into a digital format in just one click by taking a picture straight from your smartphone or scanning a pdf. It automatically extracts, categorizes, and human-verifies important data from your receipts so that you can go over and check your records anytime with ease. Shoeboxed ensures you will always have your receipts securely stored and ready for tax purposes.

Access your Shoeboxed account from your web browser or smartphone app. Stay audit-ready with Shoeboxed for FREE now!

Business Receipts Basics: What You Need to Keep for Tax Seasons?

As a small business owner, you know that you need to keep track of your business’s financial documents for tax purposes. Those documents include business receipts, bank statements, purchase history, credit card statements, online banking records, and a lot more. 

However, staying on top of those documents isn’t as easy as a walk in the park. Which business receipts should you keep? And for how long? And in what form? This article will answer all these burning questions.  

Which receipts do small business owners need to keep?


According to the IRS, keeping good records will help you monitor the progress of your business, prepare your financial statements, and identify sources of income. From that, you can keep track of deductible expenses and prepare your tax returns easier.

On the other hand, the IRS doesn’t explicitly mention the possibility of being in trouble if you don’t keep the right documents. When it comes to keeping receipts for tax preparation, it’s a good idea to be “better safe than sorry” and keep all documents related to your business. It’s even better to consult with a professional accountant about this. However, as a starting point, here are a few types of business receipts that you should absolutely keep:

Inventory

Did you buy inventories to sell to your customers? Or did you sell things made from raw materials? If so, you should definitely hang on to documents that identify the payee, the amount, and proof of payment for the items. Try to get a receipt for all these purchases. However, if you can’t get a receipt, keep the invoice and canceled check (proof that the check has been paid.)

Business assets

The term “business assets” refers to the property you own and use in your business. Furniture, computers, vehicles, or machinery are typical examples of assets. If you’ve ever tried to file assets for taxes on your own, you know that you’ll have to deal with a complicated thing like “depreciation.”

To make tracking depreciation easier, you should keep track of when, where, and how much money you’ve spent on your business assets. For example, you can keep receipts of when you purchase your company’s computers. You’ll also want to keep records of when you sell one of your assets.

Other business-related expenses

Most of your business receipts will likely fall into this category. Though every business is different, here are the most common examples of business-related expenses:

  • Advertising: Advertising expenses include designing and purchasing business cards, online and offline advertising, billboards, web hosting, etc. 
  • Vehicle expenses: Vehicle expenses such as gas and maintenance fees are tax-deductible, so don’t throw away those receipts!
  • Education expenses: This expense applies when you hire a professional or an education service to train yourself or your employee. Don’t forget to keep your invoice or receipt and your bank records to prove that you paid for the education expenses. 
  • Professional services: This expense applies when you hire a lawyer, accountant, bookkeeper, or graphic designer to work for a certain period of time. You will need to keep the invoice and the receipt when you pay the bill. 
  • Entertainment: Entertainment expenses such as taking clients out for lunch can be tax-deductible, but you need to pay close attention. You have to keep both the receipt and records showing that your activities were directly business-related (e.g., an email invitation for a business lunch.)
  • Networking: If you attend a networking event or conference, you’ll need to keep your receipts, bills, and bank records as proof of purchase.
  • Office supplies: Extra office expenses, such as printers, staples, paperclips, scanners, etc., are tax-deductible. So don’t forget to take the receipts every time you visit office supply stores! 
  • Travel expenses: During your work, you may need to visit a client or attend a conference in another state. Though the IRS requires specific qualifications for deductible travel expenses, you can keep certain receipts or bills of your travel expenses to deduct all or part of a trip. You can check out our article on how to manage your business travel expenses effectively.

How long should you keep business receipts?

In general, you should keep business receipts for three years (from the date you file your tax return). In some special circumstances where fraud or severe tax underpayment is suspected, the IRS might require you to keep your receipts for up to six years. For example, if you underpaid your taxes by more than 25 percent, you will need to keep those records on hand. 

How Shoeboxed can help you digitally store your business receipts

Years’ worth of business receipts can result in piles of papers. Fortunately, no one says that you have to keep all your business receipts in their original paper form. So, what’s the best alternative to save all your documents for any potential IRS audit? 

The answer is to digitize them. As the IRS accepts digital receipts, you don’t need to store physical copies of your bank statements, purchase history, or credit card statements. Today, there are many receipt scanning apps that help you digitize paper receipts and save them for years.

Shoeboxed is an all-in-one receipt management app for small business owners and freelance accountants. With an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) engine and human-verified feature, Shoeboxed ensures that your business receipts are precisely scanned, clearly located, and easy to track. You can then create clear and comprehensive expense reports that include images of your receipts, export, share or print all the information you need for easy tax preparation or reimbursement… within a few clicks. 

Moreover, Shoeboxed‘s mileage tracking and business card storing features make it a one-touch app to store and access all your business’s important information. 
Sign up and go paperless with Shoeboxed today!

5 Receipts Small Business Owners Should Take Extra Care to Keep

Holding on to detailed receipts for expenses is one of your best defenses in an audit. Receipts also act as a log, allowing you to jot down important context about your (sometimes costly) expenses. Of course, not all receipts are created equal, so we’ve compiled a list of five, highly scrutinized receipts for which you’ll want to keep receipts.

Holding on to detailed receipts for expenses is one of your best defenses in an audit. Receipts also act as a log, allowing you to jot down important context about your (sometimes costly) expenses.

Of course, not all receipts are created equal, so we’ve compiled a list of five, highly scrutinized receipts you’ll want to keep.

1. Meal & Entertainment Receipts

Winning clients and building relationships are two of the many reasons we like to break bread with business contacts. Unfortunately, the line between “contacts” and friends is often blurred, making this an expense the IRS likes to scrutinize. For that reason, it’s best practice to keep receipts handy and properly documented in case of an audit. This includes recording information about who attended the meal and the purpose.

Shoeboxed Pro Tip: You can record this information using Shoeboxed in the “Notes” field for each receipt. When you submit an expense, simply include the initials of everyone who attended and a quick description of meeting purpose in the Notes section. Or if you use Magic Envelopes, you can jot down the information on the receipt and then add the information in the Notes field once the receipt has been processed. Simple as that.

Add a note to a Shoeboxed receipt by clicking on the Notes field in the receipt details
In the Shoeboxed web app, you can add receipt information like client name or meeting purpose under the “notes” section. Better documentation of Meals and Entertainment receipts will protect you from audits and verify that the expense is indeed deductible.

 

2. Receipts from Out of Town Business Travels

Out of town business travel generates tons of receipts from airline tickets, taxis, meals, laundry, lodging and more. Of course, business travel can also be mistaken for “pleasure”, making this another IRS favorite prone to audit scrutiny. Receipts verify what was purchased on the trip and also act as a travel log of where time on the business trip was spent. Some important factors that determine eligibility include: how much of the trip was personal in nature, if the trip was away from your tax home and if the amounts are justifiable.

Shoeboxed Pro Trip: When traveling, make it habit to submit receipts as you make the purchase — don’t wait until the end of your trip to document your paper trail. Using the Shoeboxed Receipt and Mileage Tracker app can help you achieve this, and it can also eliminate the possibility of losing a receipt. You wouldn’t want to lose reimbursement or deduction money because of a misplaced piece of paper!

Use Shoeboxed to track receipts on-the-go as you travel on business trips, like Uber ride receipts
1. Receipts verify business expenses used on business-related trips & keep a time log of your travel activities.

Use Shoeboxed to track receipts on-the-go as you travel on business trips, like Hotel stay receipts
2. Keeping track of receipts as you buy when traveling eliminates the risk of losing proof of purchase.

Use Shoeboxed to track receipts on-the-go as you travel on business trips, and then create expense reports to keep the deductible expenses organized
3. At the end of your trip, organize deductible receipts by creating expense reports right from your phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Vehicle Related Receipts

“Mixed use” assets, like a vehicle used for both personal and business purposes, require extra care to distinguish when they are being used for business and when they are not. Since only the portion of use that is for business should be counted in the company’s books, keeping clear and detailed records of when, where and why a vehicle is used for business purposes helps to establish what portion of use is business related.

The portion of use that is business related (e.g. 20% of use is for business) can then be applied against any vehicle related expenses (maintenance, parts etc). Always keep a detailed receipt (as opposed to a credit card statement) that lists what items or services the vehicle needs.  Remember, if an auditor can’t easily establish that a payment to Costco was for car tires and not for Tide, chances are that vehicle-related expense won’t be considered for business purposes.

Shoeboxed Pro Tip: Use the Shoeboxed Receipt and Mileage Tracker App to automatically track mileage using your phone’s built-in GPS when traveling to and from business meetings. Not only will the app record the precise start and end points of your trip for detailed documentation, but it will also apply the standard mileage rate.

Use Shoeboxed mileage tracking to keep accurate records of business expenses related to vehicle use
1. Drop a pin whenever you want to start, pause or end a trip to make sure you are maximizing deductible mileage rates.

Use Shoeboxed mileage tracking to keep accurate records of business expenses related to vehicle use
2. Adding a trip name and a note to distinguish the business-related nature of the trip will ensure it is deduction-friendly.

Use Shoeboxed mileage tracking to keep accurate records of business expenses related to vehicle use
3. Shoeboxed Mileage tracking syncs with your phone’s built-in GPS for accurate documentation of vehicle trips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Receipts for Gifts

Gifts are a thoughtful way to build rapport, however, there are several nuances to be aware of. For example, deciphering whether concert or sporting event tickets are considered ‘gifts’ or ‘entertainment’ depends on whether or not the gift giver goes with their client or business prospect. Documenting this kind of information on the gift receipt is key to allowing your accountant to treat the expense correctly for tax purposes. For more detailed information on gift expense limits and interpretation, check out this publication.

Shoeboxed Pro Tip: If you want to keep better track of gift receipts, add a “Gift” category and assign that category to receipts that would be considered gifts for deduction purposes. You can also add information which can validate whether or not the receipt can be considered a gift in the “Notes” field under receipt details.

Manage receipts with Shoeboxed by using customized categories to organize expenses,
Add a “Gift” category and assign them to expenses that could be deducted as gifts. Organizing receipts by category can also help you and your accountant treat the expense correctly for tax purposes.

 

5. Home Office Receipts

Like vehicles, a home office is considered “mixed-use” and the expenses associated with claiming a home office are therefore closely scrutinized. The key to properly accounting for home office expenses is to establish what portion of the home and the home’s expenses the office represents. If the home office makes up 20% of the home’s space, for example, then this proportion of expenses is deemed common to both the home and home office such as rent, electricity, internet to name a few. Keeping the bills and proof of payment for the home expenses with the business’ files is important in case these home office related expenses are challenged. Be sure to read the IRS publication on home office expenses for more information on what shared use items do or don’t qualify.

Shoeboxed Pro Tip: Documents other than receipts (like bills and invoices that prove home office expenses) can also be used to protect your business in case of an audit. Luckily, you can upload a variety of documents to Shoeboxed — we don’t just scan receipts!

Shoeboxed can organize a variety of documents like bills, invoices and contracts to verify expenses, not just receipts
Home office deductions can get tricky because shared space with the “home” complicates the use of business expenses. Documents other than receipts (like bills and invoices that prove home office expenses) can be used to protect your business in case of an audit when receipts alone cannot distinguish home vs. office use.

An original version of this article was first published on the Shoeboxed Blog in November 2013 and was written by Ian Crosby, the CEO of Bench.co, an online accounting firm. This version has been altered to reflect IRS updates and new Shoeboxed features.