July 25, 2008

Records Retention

Question:

A church treasurer in Wisconsin writes: "I've often wondered if I need to keep all the receipts on items purchased for the church? Here's an example. An individual purchases items for VBS, they turn in the receipt, and I reimburse them. Do I need to keep those receipts?"

Answer:

You should keep receipts like these for seven years—the statutory limit for most legal actions. In a worst case scenario, you’d be responsible to prove that each disbursement was for legitimate expenses of the ministry.

Many treasurers use a system such as the following:
1. Each paid invoice is clearly marked “PAID” along with its check number and date.
2. During the year, paid invoices are filed alphabetically by vendor or payee name. A church with a large volume of payments may set up 26 folders, each for a letter of the alphabet. If, for example, ABC Supply has a lot of paid receipts, then a 27th folder can be labeled and those documents filed in it, etc. A receipt for VBS items reimbursed to Maggie Petersen should include notation that she was the one being paid and then be filed in the “P” folder for her last name. (Some ministries create a separate form (“voucher”) to be attached to the receipt; the voucher includes bookkeeping account identification, budget authorization signatures and other information).
3. At the end of each fiscal year, the folders documenting payments are placed in a box with the fiscal year and a “Destroy Date” seven years later. The box from seven years earlier can also be discarded at that time.

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