Why keep good business records

There are a number of reasons for keeping good records of your business transactions

Legal requirement

The most important reason for keeping good records is that it’s a legal requirement for you to do so. By law, the Tax Office requires you to keep business records:

  • for five years after they are prepared, obtained or the transactions completed (whichever occurs later), and
  • in English, or in a form that tax officers can access and understand in order to determine your tax liability.

You can issue and store records in either paper or electronic form (see below for more details). There are penalties for not maintaining the required records and for not keeping them for five years. Keeping good records will help you avoid these penalties.

Other reasons

Other reasons for keeping good business records are to:

  • make it easier to complete your activity statements and prepare your annual income tax and fringe benefits tax returns
  • monitor the health of your business and be able to make sound business decisions, for example, whether you have adequate cash flow
  • demonstrate your financial position to banks and other lenders, and also to prospective buyers of your business, and
  • make the best use of your Melbourne accountant. Rather than paying your accountant to sort through a shoebox of paperwork, give them well- prepared records and pay them instead to help you with your business and financial planning.

Record keeping evaluation tool

We have developed an electronic tool to help you evaluate the record keeping needs of your business. You can use this tool if you are:

  • thinking about starting a business
  • in business and responsible for keeping the business records, or
  • responsible for managing business records of small businesses, for example, you are a tax agent or a bookkeeper.

Superannuation funds, non-profit organisations or government agencies should not use this tool as they have particular record keeping requirements. Based on your information, the tool provides a list of the records your business should keep and a report that indicates how well your business is keeping its records. If appropriate, the report will include suggestions for improvement.

Should you keep electronic or manual records?

You can record the information from your business transaction documents in a cash book, either electronically or manually. Recording your transactions manually can be as simple as using an exercise book but it’s probably a good idea to buy a commercial cash book, available from a newsagent or a stationery shop. To record your transactions electronically, you can use an electronic spreadsheet or a software accounting package. An electronic record keeping package has many advantages. It helps you record your business transactions (including income and expenses, payments to workers, and stock and asset details) and automatically tallies amounts. You can also use it to produce invoices, complete activity statements, and provide summaries and reports for GST and income tax purposes. If your record keeping package meets Tax Office requirements, you may be able to report certain information to the Tax Office electronically. If you do decide to go electronic, make sure:

  • you choose a software package that meets your business needs and Tax Office requirements, and
  • you talk to your Melbourne accountant.

There are a range of commercial packages available, ranging from fairly simple systems to much more complex ones. You might like to try e-Record, the user-friendly electronic record keeping package developed by the Tax Office. It’s free and available in both PC and Macintosh versions.

Electronic record keeping requirements

The Tax Office has certain requirements that must be met if you keep your business records electronically. As with paper records, you must keep electronic records:

  • for five years after they are prepared, obtained or the transactions completed (whichever occurs later), and
  • in English, or in a form that tax officers can access and understand in order to determine your tax liability.

You can choose to provide a printed copy of your electronic records and, where necessary, documentation from your computer system if requested by tax officers.

Keeping electronic records secure

You must be able to demonstrate that the records kept on your computer system are secure and accurate. This includes having:

  • control over access to your computer, for example, through the use of passwords
  • control over incoming and outgoing information
  • control over processing of information, and
  • back-up copies of computer files and programs and the ability to recover records if your computer system fails.

Storing paper records electronically

Whether you use a manual or an electronic system, you may want to store and keep paper records electronically. The Tax Office accepts the imaging of business paper records onto an electronic storage medium, provided the electronic copies are:

  • a true and clear reproduction of the original paper records
  • kept for five years, and
  • capable of being retrieved and read by tax officers at all times.

You don’t have to keep original paper records once they have been imaged onto an electronic storage medium.



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