Meanings of Retention Periods Part IV
Handling of data carriers
Often the documents are no longer kept in paper form, but can be archived on data carriers. However, electronic invoices are subject to strict retention requirements. Many companies do not know that electronic invoices must also be saved electronically. In addition to invoices, books and other records can also be stored on data carriers.
This is where the GoBD come into play. According to them, invoices must be stored unchangeably so that they are completely traceable and verifiable. If they are not, there is a risk of high additional claims from the tax office.
The data of the invoices and the accounting receipts must be available at all times during the entire retention period. It must be possible to make them readable immediately when they are needed. In the case of an external audit, tax authorities have the right to inspect the data carriers and the data stored on them and to use the data processing system for the audit. The tax authorities can also demand that the data on the data carriers be evaluated automatically according to their specifications. The data stored on the data carriers can be made available on a machine-usable data carrier at the request of the tax authorities.
Archiving on data carriers
Archiving on data carriers offers you the advantage that the data can be easily accessed and that no large paper files have to be created. You can use a search function to find the documents. You don’t have to search through folders to find important receipts quickly. Instead, you can create directories in the form of folders on a data carrier. The law doesn’t tell you what kind of media to use. However, they must be data carriers on which your data will be preserved indefinitely. Such data carriers can be external hard drives or SSD hard drives. USB sticks are not suitable as data carriers, as the data can only be stored there for a limited time and compliance with the retention period is not always guaranteed.
How do you have to keep documents?
In its letter of November 14, 2014, the Federal Ministry of Finance commented on the “principles for the proper management and storage of books, records and documents in electronic form and for data access (GoBD)” on how you should keep your documents. However, there are no detailed obligations, instead the type of storage must meet the following criteria:
Your digitally archived documents must be accessible at all times. In addition, they must be unchangeable, complete, correctly legible, traceable and machine-evaluable. If you adhere to these guidelines with your method, the tax office has nothing to complain about.
What happens to the original?
In principle, you can archive documents in paper form or digitally. However, that doesn’t mean that you can just scan everything in and throw away the originals!
Paper or electronic archiving
With powers of attorney, contracts or documents, for example (notarial documents with seal and stamp) you can scan the original into your digital archive in order to complete your files and to find the data faster and to be able to view it electronically. But since only the original document has evidential value, you must under all circumstances keep the original in such a way that it remains unchanged and legible and that you can submit it to publishers immediately.
What happens to emails?
For e-mails and attachments to e-mails, as for all digital documents, they must be archived in exactly the form in which they were received by you. So you can neither keep printouts nor save the attachments somewhere and then delete the e-mails. You have to record the e-mail archiving in your e-mail account to prove when it was received with which attachments. Any other form would no longer guarantee immutability.
Forms for storage
According to SCIENCEDICT.COM, the documents must remain legible during the entire retention period. In principle, it makes sense to keep documents in the original, but if such documents are thermal copy paper, they must be photocopied or put on a data carrier, as they will fade over time. In this case, the receipt on thermal copy paper no longer needs to be kept.
Annual accounts and opening balance sheets must always be kept in the original. Invoices as well as commercial and business letters can be stored in the original, but also pictorially. Figuratively means that these documents can be scanned and saved on a data carrier. If documents are kept in the original, they must be backed up. The room in which they are stored must be protected from external influences such as moisture, water and fire. The documents must be kept in an orderly manner. This means that they can be checked by an expert third party within a reasonable time. A set of rules can serve as the basis for archiving.