How long do you have to keep private documents?
Retention period: 2 years
Purchase contracts, receipts and invoices should be kept for this time. This is important for warranty cases and because of the warranty period. Invoices from craftsmen, doctors, lawyers, appraisers and notaries are therefore particularly important.
Especially when it comes to buying an apartment or a house, documents related to it must also be kept. In other words, all invoices or correspondence relating to the construction work (including plans by the architect or structural engineer), all documents relating to craftsmanship or renovation and cleaning work.
Retention period: 5 years
If there are complaints in connection with the own home, then you need complaints and claims for defects or all relevant documents for 5 years. And if this should lead to a procedure, the documents must still be available afterwards!
Retention period: 6 years
High earners with an income of over 500,000 euros per year must keep their account statements and tax-relevant accounting documents for 6 years.
Retention period: 30 years
When it comes to payment orders, judgments or court files, the documents should be kept for at least 30 years.
It is best to keep all personally important documents for life. This includes birth and marriage certificates as well as baptismal certificates or death certificates, but also documents relevant to pension insurance or medical reports and school reports.
Special case insurance documents:
These documents must be kept for at least as long as the insurance is running.
Sometimes a deadline can be extended if the deadline has not yet expired. Such a thing can occur in cases of tax cuts or tax evasion (§ 169 Abs. 2 S. 2 AO.) But also in criminal investigations or in the middle of an external audit as well as in the case of preliminary tax assessments.
Where do the documents have to be kept?
There are even regulations stating where to keep the records. Section 146 (2) AO expressly stipulates that the documents must be kept in Germany. Exceptions must be applied for in writing and approved by the tax authorities. There is no such requirement for the documents required by the German Commercial Code. The only important thing here is that the documents can be presented within a reasonable period of time (Section 239 (4) HGB) .
Forms of storage
There are basically two forms of storage available: the classic paper form and the modern digital form , which is particularly useful for e-mails, or in modern digitized offices. However, it is not always allowed to digitize paper documents and then dispose of them. Since the evidential value of documents (with notarial seals and stamps) is only available in the original. Although these can be digitized to complete archives and for faster searches, the original must be presented in case of doubt.
Digital documents must be archived in the form in which they were received by the company. An e-mail as an e-mail. It must not be printed out and then deleted from the e-mail account. The same applies to the digitally received and archived documents as to the paper documents: they must be kept for 6 or 10 years, depending on the type of document. There is also information on this from the Federal Ministry of Finance, for example in the letter dated November 14, 2014 on the ” Principles for the proper management and storage of books, records and documents in electronic form as well as for data access (GoBD)”
In the case of digitally archived documents, it is important that they can be called up at any time and are unchangeable, complete, correctly readable, traceable and machine-evaluable.
With GoBD-compliant accounting software like sevDesk, you don’t have to worry about keeping your documents. Invoices, offers and other business letters are easily saved in the cloud.
Violation of the retention requirements
The taxpayer always has the burden of proof to the authorities. Therefore, in case of doubt, he must be able to present the necessary documents. If he cannot do this, although the documents are subject to the retention requirement, there is at least a fine for violating the retention requirement . The tax authorities will then estimate the tax burden – albeit significantly higher than normal. Even further sanctions under the Criminal Code or the AO would be possible (prosecution of criminal insolvency days or suppression of documents or prosecution of tax crimes and misdemeanors.)