Back to Blog

Document Retention Tips for Any Business


Filling out paperwork, keeping tabs on important documentation and files, and figuring out how to store and organize all of this information are necessary albeit burdensome daily activities for most businesses. Unfortunately, in document-heavy industries or those segments of the economy that tend to be highly regulated, it can be a downright struggle to keep up with both the volume of paperwork and the different rules and regulations regarding the manner in which the paperwork must be managed and retained.


Different industries and the laws that govern them may have drastically divergent requirements with respect to the length of time that records must be kept, as well as how those documents must be stored. In some cases, there may even be detailed nuances, so it is imperative that companies conduct due diligence with respect to specific document retention rules to ensure compliance.


Interestingly, even though these differences definitely exist, there does seem to be a general timeframe that commonly appears in many different sectors. The sweet spot for document retention, so to speak, frequently appears to be in the three to seven year range. However, this is by no means an absolute standard, so individuals in charge of a company’s recordkeeping should be sure to look up any specific rules that may be applicable to them.


In addition, there are certain records that are considered “permanent,” and thus companies are required to keep that documentation in perpetuity. Most of a company’s permanent paperwork pertains to its legal, tax, and accounting records, as well as some employment-related matters. Obviously, it would be a bit cumbersome to try to locate and summarize all of the rules germane to document retention for every single subject as well as the different types of businesses, but here are a few tips that should be of use in any industry.


When in Doubt, Err on the Side of Caution

Sometimes it is unclear which documents fall under a particular category. And, in some cases, documents may actually fall under multiple categories. If a document could be considered more than one type of item and there are different rules governing the retention procedures, it is always a good decision to preserve the document based on both rules.


For example, if a particular accounting form also constitutes a tax record, then a copy of that form should be saved in the files that relate to accounting items and the separate files that pertain to tax matters. Similarly, if the pertinent accounting rules mandate a three-year retention timeframe and the tax rules dictate a four-year timeframe, it is best to err on the side of caution and keep the document for the longer period of time.


Longer is Better

The best course of action is to keep all company documents in a secure location and in an organized fashion for as long as feasible. This can be accomplished quite easily by setting up a corporate repository, ideally one that is online. Within the online corporate repository, folders and subfolders can be created and items can be easily added and copied as appropriate.


By setting up an online corporate repository, companies can hold onto documents for as long as necessary. And, perhaps more importantly, company leaders can rest assured that items will not be misplaced, stolen, damaged, or accidentally discarded.


Cloud Storage Is The Way to Go

There are obviously different ways to establish a corporate repository, but utilizing cloud storage is definitely the best way to go. In addition to offering a large amount of space for huge sums of data, cloud computing allows for efficiency and reliability. If a company changes its office spaces, there is no hardware to transport or files to move.


In addition, there are no potentially wonky networks to contend with, and if a company’s networks or internal systems are subjected to attack, whether via a remote hacker, an intentionally destructive employee, or there is an accidental occurrence such as a fire or explosion, documents stored in the cloud will remain safe from harm.


Security Matters

It may be tempting to choose one of the many free data storage solutions currently available. But, it just isn’t wise to pinch pennies when it very well may result in compromising document security. It is simply incorrect to assume that it is expensive to utilize a secure document storage service considering the number of maximum security and reasonably priced solutions that are out there now.


These days, there is just too much important information contained within company documents, and much of this tends to reside in cyberspace. Because of this, it is absolutely crucial for some company resources to be allocated to the safekeeping of records. Fortunately, there are services that recognize the importance of document privacy and employ stringent security measures to protect it.  



A CFO's definitive guide to document retention