Common Records Retention Policies and Schedules

Paper records piling up on a desk to be filed using a records retention policy

With most organizations’ data footprint growing 20-50% per year, keeping documents past pre-established dates can run the risk of security breaches and non-compliance with common privacy legislations.

Businesses should have a records retention schedule to outline the lifecycle of specific documents to purge in accordance with laws and regulations guiding your business. Here are some of the most common record retention schedules to help you craft a compliant document retention policy.

All Retention Guidelines are Different

Creating the right record retention schedule can be overwhelming. Every record retention policy and schedule is different depending on where you live. Various state and federal laws determine the period in which you must preserve confidential information. Organizations are responsible for setting the length of time records are kept with their record retention policies and assigns documents a disposition schedule.

While we can provide guidance on your data’s lifecycle, please note that these are solely general guidelines not intended to represent legal advice.To create a document retention policy that follows your locale’s current legal requirements. Contact a trusted legal expert or federal, state, or provincial government official to ensure your policy and schedules follow all codes.

What Should be Included in a Disposition Schedule?

There are quite a few moving parts for what should be included in your organization’s records retention or disposition schedule. The schedule should describe your records and specify how long and where they are kept through their life cycle. Note the format in which they are stored, and describe the process of their destruction or archival.

Group identical and related records together into a records series (also known as an item on the schedule). Files and records united together can help streamline the implementation of your schedule.

Description of Documents

When describing documents in your schedule, include information about the organization, its services, and programs. Your policy should also mention the function or purpose behind programs and services, along with activities and legislation behind them.

Descriptions of Items on the Schedule

Once your documents are grouped into items on the schedule (or records series), provide descriptive information on its use, format, security, and accessibility needs. You will also need to note each item’s significance to government programs, legality, and privacy requirements.

Record Series Date Ranges

Record series will need a date range assigned to each item and a designated time for how long each record series should be kept in active or semi-active phases within the organization. These dates should be guided by business rules for records closure that determine the completion of the active phase and mark the file as completed or closed. Be sure to note each rule that guides disposition in your schedule.

Disposal Instructions

The final description needed for items on your schedule are to note how long record series are kept in inactive phases and how the final deposition will be completed via destruction or preservation.

Types of Record Retention Schedules

There are two types of record retention schedules that you can use for your organization: Continuing and One-Time Schedules. You should choose the schedule that best fits your company’s needs based on how documents are produced and maintained over time.

Continuing Schedules

Continuing Schedules should be used for your document retention policy when you are scheduling records that are continuously being created. The continuing schedule is best for documents involving ongoing programs, services, and functions or active records with long-term values.

The vast majority of scheduling projects tend to use continuing schedules. The methodology behind this schedule helps you prepare for upcoming scheduling projects and the production of subsequent records.

One-Time Schedules

As its name suggests, one-time schedules should only be used for documents that are only retained once. One-time schedules are only used in exceptional situations when disposing of non-current documents irrelevant to existing programs and services. Sometimes you will need a one-time schedule when you dispose of records related to outdated and disbanded programs or services.

Documents Required to Retain by Law

There are many types of documents that must be kept for a specific period contingent upon federal, state, and local laws. Laws regarding tax, employee benefits, wages, timesheets, and occupational safety are all required to be retained by law. Again, check with your state and local laws to evaluate all required provisions applicable to your business for required periods.

 Tax & IRS Audits

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can audit your tax records for up to six years in cases of suspected fraud. Organizations are responsible for keeping tax-related documents for a minimum period of eight years. Be sure to keep gross receipts, tax returns, purchase receipts, and documentation for travel, transportation, and gifts.

Photographic Copies of Records as Evidence

The Uniform Photographic Copies of Business and Public Records as Evidence Act allows businesses to scan paper documents into digital format and then destroy original copies to promote increased storage capacity. In the United States, most states have adopted this act in some capacity.

Employment Records

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and state wage and hour laws, businesses are required to retain employment records. Most commonly, businesses must keep specific payroll and wage records for up to three years. Additionally, any business that offers a 401K or retirement plan is required to save records under the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA). Other important employee-related documents to save include employee training manuals, employee records, and income tax forms.

Health, Safety, & Environmental Documents

Regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require employers in specific industries with more than ten employees to keep their documents. Specifically, OSHA 300 Logs describing and documenting work-related injuries and illnesses must be kept for up to five years. In cases where businesses work with hazardous chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires record-keeping.

Medical & Healthcare Records

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the privacy of medical and healthcare records. Businesses that handle and manage insurance records must complete privacy and document retention provisions to comply with the act.

Uniform Preservation of Private Business Records Act

Under the Uniform Preservation of Private Business Records Act, businesses cannot destroy regular business documents for three years, pending no other statutes requiring the upkeep of the records or looming litigation. It’s important to determine other personal business factors that may extend retention periods outside of the context of the act.

Statutes of Limitation

Statutes of Limitations are set by state and federal law to determine deadlines for filing lawsuits. Each state establishes its own limitations period. Since there are such various causes of action and statute of limitations, it is not advisable to base your data retention policy on these rules. Instead, identify documents not covered by any other provision, such as tax or payroll records, and set a general retention period for them. Five years is a good rule of thumb when selecting a period.

Considering statutes of limitations when creating your document retention policy is suggested, particularly for contracts. For instance, if you have a vendor contract for five years, you should retain the contract within your data retention policy following your state’s statute of limitation period. Following the statute of limitations period will help you if you need to defend against or file a lawsuit. Destroying critical information that can protect you in a lawsuit before the statute of limitation has expired can be harmful to your businesses.

Retention Period Schedules by Industry

Many industries have document retention schedules that outline how long they should hold on to important documents. Below are some common industries that require document retention policies and the schedules they follow.


Document Type Time Period
AR/AP Ledger 7 Years
Bank Reconciliations 2 Years
Receipts Records Permanently
Chart of Accounts Permanently
Depreciation Schedules Permanently
Expense Reports 7 Years
Financial Statements Permanently
General Ledgers Permanently
Inventory Records Permanently
Tax Returns Permanently

Human Resources & Payroll

Document Type Time Period
Attendance & Time Reports 7 Years
Benefits 5-7 Years
Job Applications 3 Years
Payroll Records – After Termination 10 Years
Personnel Files – After Termination 7 Years
Current Employee Personnel Files Permanently
Safety Reports 5 Years


Document Type Time Period
Annual Reports Permanently
Incorporation Articles Permanently
External Audit Reports Permanently
Internal Audit Reports 6 Years
Contracts Permanently
Current Employee Personnel Files Permanently
Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents Permanently
Legal Correspondence Permanently
General Correspondence 2 Years
Routine Correspondence 7 Years
Mortgages, Licenses & Deeds Permanently
Partnership Agreements Permanently


Document Type Time Period
Purchase Orders 3 Years
Sales Contracts 3 Years
Invoices 3 Years
Requisitions 3 Years

How to Ensure Success with your DRP

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of what to include in your records retention schedule and how long to preserve data, your organization will need a team of scanning professionals to manage the lifecycle of your documents.

Didlake Document Imaging’s team of private and industry compliant record scanners can assist you in your document management journey. Request a free quote on your project and experience the Didlake Difference for yourself!