Tax and Home Records Checklist: What to Keep and For How Long

By Dona DeZube, October 1, 2014

Want to rest assured you have all the documents you need when you need them, but not be awash in paper? Read on.

Unless you’re living in the 123-room Spelling Manor, you probably don’t have space to store massive amounts of tax and insurance paperwork, warranties, and repair receipts related to your home. But you’ll definitely want your paperwork at hand if you have to prove you deserved a tax deduction, file an insurance claim, or figure out if your busted oven is still under warranty.

Except for tax paperwork, there’s no official guideline governing exactly how long you have to keep most home-related documents. Lucky for you, we considered the situations in which you might need documents and came up with a handy “How Long to Keep It” home records checklist.

First, a little background on IRS rules, which informed some of our charts:

  • The IRS says you should keep tax returns and the paperwork supporting them for at least three years after you file the return — the amount of time the IRS has to audit you. So that’s how long we advise in our charts.
  • Check with your state about state income tax, though. Some make you keep tax records a really long time: In Ohio, it’s 10 years.
  • The IRS can also ask for records up to six years after a filing if they suspect someone failed to report 25% or more of his gross income. And the agency never closes the door on an audit if it suspects fraud. Just sayin’.
HOME SALE RECORDS
Document How Long to Keep It
Home sale closing documents, including HUD-1 settlement sheet As long as you own the property + 3 years
Deed to the house As long as you own the property
Builder’s warranty or service contract for new home Until the warranty period ends
Community/condo association covenants, codes, restrictions (CC&Rs) As long as you own the property
Receipts for capital improvements As long as you own the property + 3 years
Section 1031 (like-kind exchange) sale records for both your old and new properties, including HUD-1 settlement sheet As long as you own the property + 3 years
Mortgage payoff statements (certificate of satisfaction or lien release) Forever, just in case a lender says, “Hey, you still owe money.”

Why you need these docs: You use home sale closing documents, receipts for capital improvements, and like-kind exchange records to calculate and document your profit (gain) when you sell your home. Your deed and mortgage payoff statements prove you own your home and have paid off your mortgage, respectively. Your builder’s warranty or contract is important if you file a claim. And sooner or later you’ll need to check the CC&R rules in your condo or community association.

ANNUAL TAX DEDUCTIONS
Document How Long to Keep It
Property tax payment (tax bill + canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed) 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Year-end mortgage statements 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
PMI payment (monthly bills + canceled check or bank statements showing check was cashed) 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Residential energy tax credit* receipts 3 years after the due date of the return on which the credit is claimed (including carryforwards**)

Why you need these docs: To document you’re eligible for a deduction or tax credit.

*Energy tax credits for alternative energy sources; credit expires at the end of 2016.

**Tax credits that you carry forward from one year to a future year, such as when you don’t have enough tax liability to offset the entire amount of the credit. (You can’t deduct more than you earn.) Only certain tax credits can be carried forward. Check with your tax pro about your particular circumstances.

INSURANCE AND WARRANTIES
Document How Long to Keep It
Home repair receipts Until warranty expires
Inventory of household possessions Forever (Remember to make updates.)
Homeowners insurance policies Until you receive the next year’s policy
Service contracts and warranties As long as you have the item being warrantied

Why you need these docs: To file a claim or see what your policy or warranty covers.

INVESTMENT (LANDLORD) REAL ESTATE DEDUCTIONS
Document How Long to Keep It
Appraisal or valuation used to calculate depreciation As long as you own the property + 3 years
Receipts for capital expenses, such as an addition or improvements As long as you own the property + 3 years
Receipts for repairs and other expenses 3 years after the due date of the return showing the deduction
Landlord’s insurance payment receipt (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed) 3 years after the due date showing the deduction
Landlord’s insurance policy Until you receive the next year’s policy
Partnership or LLC agreements for real estate investments As long as the partnership or LLC exists + 7 years
Landlord insurance receipts (canceled check or bank statement showing check was cashed) 3 years after you deduct the expense

Why you need these docs: For the most part, to prove your eligibility to deduct the expense. You’ll also need receipts for capital expenditures to calculate your gain or loss when you sell the property. Landlord’s insurance and partnership agreements are important references.

MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS
Document How Long to Keep It
Wills and property trusts Until updated
Date-of-death home value record for inherited home, and any rules for heirs’ use of home As long as you own the home + 3 years
Original owners’ purchase documents (sales contract, deed) for home given to you as a gift As long as you own the home + 3 year
Divorce decree with home sale clause As long as you or spouse owns the home + 3 years
Employment records for live-in help (W-2s, W-4s, pay and benefits statements) 4 years after you make (or owe) payroll tax payments

Why you need these docs: Most are needed to calculate capital gains when you sell. Employment records help prove deductions.

Organizing Your Home Records

Because paper, such as receipts, fades with time and takes up space, consider scanning and storing your documents on a flash drive, an external hard drive, or a cloud-based remote server. Even better, save your documents to at least two of these places.

Digital copies are OK with the IRS as long as they’re identical to the originals and contain all the accurate information that was in the original receipts. You must be able to produce a hard copy if the IRS asks for one.

Tip: Tax season and year’s end are good times to purge files and toss what you no longer need; that’s often when the spirit of organization moves us.

When you do finally toss out your home-related paperwork, use a shredder. Throwing away intact documents with personal financial information puts you at risk for identity theft.

This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but isn’t intended to be relied upon as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Consult a tax professional for such advice.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
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Lemons!

Congratulations, you now own a lemon tree!  Just FYI, that thing will give you a TON of fruit.  You can always share with neighbors or co-workers.  Here are some ideas on how to put all those lemons to use!

My favorite thing to do is juice the lemons (I would highly suggest an electric juicer) and enlisting the help of a child that still finds this kind of task fun.  Freeze the juice in ice cube trays (found at the dollar store) in 1-2 tablespoons.  Once they are frozen, you can store them in gallon size Ziploc bags in the freezer.  They will be handy for whenever you might need lemon juice when cooking.

Here’s my favorite recipe with lemons from Real Simple Magazine – Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon-Garlic Green Beans.  Everyone I have served this to has LOVED it, including my children.  It’s easy but delicious enough for a casual dinner party.  And with easy, ahead-of-time prep, you’re not busy in the kitchen when guests arrive, you’re sipping wine and serving appetizers (if you’re that fancy!).

Of course, a glass of water with lemon before a meal is recommended to help with weight loss. Here’s an article about Lemon & Mint Water by skinnyms.com and an article on the benefits of lemon water in Huffington Post.

Martha Stewart recommends using lemons to clean the cutting board, use half a lemon with baking soda to sanitize the garbage disposal and with water to clean the microwave.

I had been in search of a tub and tile cleaner that my kids could use to help clean the bathroom without any harsh fumes.  This one was fantastic!

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4 Tips to Determine How Much Mortgage You Can Afford

By G. M. Filisko

By knowing how much mortgage you can handle, you can ensure that homeownership will fit in your budget.

Homeownership should make you feel safe and secure, and that includes financially. Be sure you can afford your home by calculating how much of a mortgage you can safely fit into your budget.

Why not just take out the biggest mortgage a lender says you can have? Because your lender bases that number on a formula that doesn’t consider your current and future financial and personal goals.

Think ahead to major life events and consider how those might influence your budget. Do you want to return to school for an advanced degree? Will a new child add day care to your monthly expenses? Does a relative plan to eventually live with you and contribute to the mortgage?

Consider those lifestyle issues as you check out these four methods for estimating the amount of mortgage you can afford.

1.  Prepare a detailed budget.

The oldest rule of thumb says you can typically afford a home priced two to three times your gross income. So, if you earn $100,000, you can typically afford a home between $200,000 and $300,000.

But that’s not the best method because it doesn’t take into account your monthly expenses and debts. Those costs greatly influence how much you can afford. Let’s say you earn $100,000 a year but have $1,000 in monthly payments for student debt, car loans, and credit card minimum payments. You don’t have as much money to pay your mortgage as someone earning the same income with no debts.

Better option: Prepare a family budget that tallies your ongoing monthly bills for everything — credit cards, car and student loans, lunch at work, day care, date night, vacations, and savings.

See what’s left over to spend on homeownership costs, like your mortgage, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, and community association fees, if applicable.

2.  Factor in your downpayment.

How much money do you have for a downpayment? The higher your downpayment, the lower your monthly payments will be. If you put down at least 20% of the home’s cost, you may not have to get private mortgage insurance, which protects the lender if you default and costs hundreds each month. That leaves more money for your mortgage payment.

The lower your downpayment, the higher the loan amount you’ll need to qualify for and the higher your monthly mortgage payment.

But, if interest rates and/or home prices are rising and you wait to buy until you accumulate a bigger downpayment, you may end up paying more for your home.

3.  Consider your overall debt.

Lenders generally follow the 43% rule. Your monthly mortgage payments covering your home loan principal, interest, taxes and insurance, plus all your other bills, like car loans, utilities, and credit cards, shouldn’t exceed 43% of your gross annual income.

Here’s an example of how the 43% calculation works for a homebuyer making $100,000 a year before taxes:

1.    Your gross annual income is $100,000.

2.    Multiply $100,000 by 43% to get $43,000 in annual income.

3.    Divide $43,000 by 12 months to convert the annual 43% limit into a monthly upper limit of $3,583.

4.    All your monthly bills including your potential mortgage can’t go above $3,583 per month.

You might find a lender willing to give you a mortgage with a payment that goes above the 43% line, but consider carefully before you take it. Evidence from studies of mortgage loans suggest that borrowers who go over the limit are more likely to run into trouble making monthly payments, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns.

4.  Use your rent as a mortgage guide.

The tax benefits of homeownership generally allow you to afford a mortgage payment — including taxes and insurance — of about one-third more than your current rent payment without changing your lifestyle. So you can multiply your current rent by 1.33 to arrive at a rough estimate of a mortgage payment.

Here’s an example: If you currently pay $1,500 per month in rent, you should be able to comfortably afford a $2,000 monthly mortgage payment after factoring in the tax benefits of homeownership.

However, if you’re struggling to keep up with your rent, buy a home that will give you the same payment rather than going up to a higher monthly payment. You’ll have additional costs for homeownership that your landlord now covers, like property taxes and repairs. If there’s no room in your budget for those extras, you could become financially stressed.

Also consider whether or not you’ll itemize your deductions. If you take the standard deduction, you can’t also deduct mortgage interest payments. Talking to a tax adviser, or using a tax software program to do a “what if” tax return, can help you see your tax situation more clearly.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who’s owned her own home for more than 20 years. A frequent contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this. Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Need help calculating your monthly mortgage payment, down payment required, or closing costs?  Email or call me, I’d be happy to send estimates to you!

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7 Home Insurance Tasks to Complete During Your Home Inspection Period

This was originally posted by Richard Morris with Southwest Premier Insurance Agency LLC and I thought the info was so valuable I needed to re-post it here!  If you have any questions about the inspection period or purchasing a home in Arizona, feel free to give me a call at 602-451-1268. ~Liz

You’ve just signed the purchase contract on your new home. You’re excited about getting into your new place and making it your own. I know! I’ve been in your shoes many times over the years.

Unfortunately, just because you signed the purchase contract it doesn’t mean you’ll have smooth sailing through your closing. There could be some choppy seas to navigate before you get to your destination. The Home Inspection period is the first of these to get through and 10 days will fly by. So, from an insurance perspective I’ve put together my 7 Home Insurance Tasks to Complete While in Your Home Inspection Period to help you get to your home closing on time and with as little trepidation as possible.

Follow these 7 tasks and it will be smooth sailing!

1.      Contact an Insurance Professional on Day 1

It’s important to begin securing your insurance for your new home early in the process not later. You’ll want to discover any issues which may increase your premium or impact qualification for insurance as early as possible so you can address them promptly. Preferably, contact an Independent Agent (see my video(2 min.) on Why you should choose an Independent Agent here) who’ll do the shopping for you among many top insurance carriers. They’ll know which companies have favorable underwriting and pricing for your individual situation.

2.      Review the CLUE reports

Yes, there are two CLUE reports. You should request the seller’s CLUE report, but more importantly, when working with your insurance professional you’ll need to review YOUR report. Your agent will get information on the SUBJECT (that’s you) and the RISK (that’s the property you’re buying). Your past claims matter, and could impact your potential rate or even qualification so this is a must do task during the inspection period. More about the CLUE Report here.

3.      Request all tree branches be trimmed back from the roof

This may seem like a strange request but it’s important to do. Many insurance companies will complete a “Drive-by” home inspection (at a minimum) and if the inspector sees branches hanging on the roof many insurance companies will send a notice of cancellation of the insurance policy if the problem isn’t rectified. Don’t go through this needless stress, address the problem early.

4.      Send your inspection report to your insurance agent

Many more insurance carriers are requesting this report today to grant Home Buyer discounts and or to verify the current condition of the home. In the past, I’ve used this report to gain approval from an insurance company underwriter when there was a major fire at a property to be insured. Your insurance professional should be reviewing this report with you from an insurance perspective; 99% of agents don’t.

5.      Consider Bundling your auto and home insurance to save money

How would you like to get your home insurance paid for by the savings that bundling your auto insurance brings? I’ve witnessed this many times. Unless you’re closing your home purchase in 10 days or less you have plenty of time to work with your agent to find the best package policy and price for your situation. Often times there can be hundreds of dollars saved annually by bundling so; Don’t leave any money on the table!

6.      Meet with your Insurance Professional personally to review the final policy selection

Resist the urge to have your documents mailed to you. If the agent you choose only wants to mail your application to you for signatures then you’ve picked the wrong agent or company. After all, your home purchase is probably the single most expensive asset you’ve ever purchased so why would you want your agent to “Mail it In”. The right professional agent will make the time to meet with you; don’t waste this opportunity to have a detailed review of the insurance that may someday be needed after a damaging peril.

7.      Complete a Home Inventory of your stuff while moving

I know it’s a busy time moving but what better time is there to log serial numbers of major electronics or take pictures or video your belongings while packing-unpacking. There are many fantastic online software programs to help you itemize and value your stuff, by room, so you have a permanent record of your inventory. This is an invaluable time saver if you should ever need to provide an inventory to your insurance company. I recommend DocuHome. Find out more about this program on my website http://www.swpremierins.com/content/homeinventorysolution.aspx

Author Richard Morris

Richard Morris, an independent insurance agent in Chandler, Arizona, has been serving and helping Arizona families with all their insurance needs for over 23 years. Visit his website at http://www.southwestpremierinsuranceagency.com to see all the ways he can help you with your insurance needs or call the office at (480) 336-2707 or toll free at (888) 907-9349. Connect with Rich on Google+ and Twitter.

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Organizing Kids’ School Papers

I have struggled for years(!) with how to organize, file, keep, and toss the kids’ school papers.  They end up all over the house, on my desk, and then in boxes that I have actually moved I am embarrassed to say how many times.

When school started I did this little panic because I still had last year’s stuff on my desk!!!  I had to get it cleared up fast since the next round was coming in.

The idea is that the kids will empty their school notebooks and gather all the beautiful artwork they create in these stackers on my desk:

Stackers on desk

Stackers on desk

I go through the papers regularly, usually once a week, but pull out the things that need to go back to school daily.  There is a self-inking date stamper sitting next to it so I don’t end up with more artwork that I have no idea which kid created it or when.  I have my own criteria for what I keep, it’s something loosely like this – it has to reflect their personality or something notable about them at the time.  I rarely keep worksheets or spelling tests.  I’m not sure I’ve ever kept a spelling test, actually.

These notebooks hold the keepers:

Artwork notebooks

Artwork notebooks

 

I put them together quickly, if you can’t tell I’m more of a functionality, get it done and move on to the next project kind of person.  But I did put scrapbook papers in the front, back, and the spine with their names on them.  Inside are page protectors to hold the artwork:

Inside the notebooks

Inside the notebooks

 

Their work can be slipped in quickly.  There are a lot of extra empty page protectors in the back so they can be inserted as soon as they are determined to be long-term keepers.

The notebooks are kept on a bookshelf where the kids can look through it anytime they want.  They really like having it accessible.

How do you manage the never-ending papers?

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