Retention period

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Retention period is the period during which storage requiring documents must be filed in order.


Completed transactions can again become important, especially when statutes of limitations have not yet expired and a forfeiture is not yet occurred. Also, warranty periods and product liability periods require longer retention of business records, as with their immediate destruction of a disadvantageous acting of evidence associated. Any legal disputes that may arise or other processes requiring evidence therefore require the archiving of documents in order to be able to derive processes that cannot be remembered at any time.

The most widespread and known are the retention periods according to commercial and tax law . In addition, there are industry or application-specific retention requirements for documents in public administration , pharmaceutical research , food and pharmaceutical production , hospitals , quality assurance , environmental protection , telecommunications , energy generation , construction , etc. Not only companies are affected by retention requirements , but also private households .

Legal retention periods in Germany

Commercial and tax law requirements

The commercial code ( §§ 238 and 257 HGB) and the tax code ( § 147 AO) regulate how long commercial documents must be kept. These regulations only apply to merchants .

Six years

According to § 257 Paragraph 1 No. 2 and 3 HGB, received commercial letters , reproductions ( copies , copies) of dispatched commercial letters, business papers and other documents with commercial and tax relevance must be kept for six years.

Ten years

According to § 257 para. 1 no. 1 and 4 HGB accounting records , inventories , opening balances , annual reports , financial statements according to § 325 para. 2 HGB, management reports , consolidated financial statements , management reports and necessary for their understanding work instructions and other organizational documents be kept for ten years. This also applies to accounting documents for the books to be kept in accordance with Section 238 (1) HGB. Incoming and outgoing invoices must also be kept for ten years ( Section 14b of the Sales Tax Act ).

Reference files

Lawyers ( § 50 BRAO ) and patent attorneys ( § 44 PAO ) have to keep files of completed orders for six years.

Retention periods for private individuals

In connection with the fight against illegal employment, non-entrepreneurs (private individuals) are also obliged to archive invoices and receipts for taxable services for two years (Section 14b, Paragraph 1, Clause 5, No. 1 UStG). This particularly affects homeowners who commission manual work in the house and on the property. All invoices for structural and planning services, for example, as well as cleaning, maintenance or gardening work are subject to a two-year retention period. Craftsmanship that is subject to a warranty obligation should be kept for up to five years.

Permanent value

"Permanent value" is a term used in public administration that describes the permanent, i.e. unlimited storage of documents. Corresponding files are usually marked there with a "D". This includes, in particular, documents of historical importance, files on proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court with the authority concerned as a party, legal documents , property documents , civil status records , construction plans for buildings and much more.

From a commercial and tax law perspective, there are no longer retention periods beyond 10 years in the economy, but it is common practice to keep partnership agreements , property documents, construction plans, patents , insurance certificates, court judgments or personnel files permanently.

Start and end of the retention period

The retention period begins at the end of the calendar year in which the document was created or received and ends after the deadline at the end of the calendar year.

Requirements for hospitals, doctors and occupational physicians

For insurance reasons, patient files should be kept for ten years. In individual areas, a longer statutory retention period applies, for example according to the Radiation Protection or X-ray Ordinance and a period of up to 30 years for records according to the Transfusion Act .

The medical documents for preventive occupational health care must be kept for at least 40 years after the last preventive care, insofar as they concern activities with carcinogenic or mutagenic substances or preparations of category K1 or K2 within the meaning of the Hazardous Substances Ordinance . In addition, for activities that lead to occupational diseases in accordance with the Occupational Diseases Ordinance (BKV) and which may have a longer latency period , the medical records of occupational health care according to Arb-MedVV should also be kept for 40 years.

In accordance with Section 10, Paragraph 1 of the professional code of conduct (statute) of the Schleswig-Holstein Medical Association (BOÄK), the doctor is obliged to keep records of the findings and measures taken in the exercise of his profession (patient documentation, patient file). These medical records must be kept for ten years even after the treatment has ended (Section 10 (4) BOÄK).

Student documents

Pursuant to Section 5, Clause 1, No. 1 of the Student Document Ordinance in Bavaria, the student master sheet, transcripts of certificates and transcripts that entitle to use the job title must be kept for 50 years, other documents for one or two years.

Legal retention periods in Austria

General requirements for business documents

According to Section 132 of the Federal Tax Code , books, records, receipts and business papers are required to be kept for seven years. Example: For documents from the 2008 calendar year, the deadline ends on December 31, 2015 (note: if the financial year is different, only documents relating to the financial year ending in 2008 may be destroyed).

Records and documents relating to properties must be kept for 12 years in accordance with Section 18 (10) UStG . This period can be extended to 22 years for certain mixed-use properties.

In principle, it also applies that all documents must be kept longer if they are relevant to pending tax proceedings (Section 132 (1) AO) or pending judicial or administrative proceedings (Section 212 of the UGB). If the tax returns are submitted very late, the statute of limitations may result in a longer retention period than ten years.

Legal retention periods in Switzerland

General requirements for business documents

The following entry can be found in the Code of Obligations under Article 958f:

Section 1
The books of account, the accounting documents and the business correspondence must be kept for ten years
Section 2
The retention period begins at the end of the financial year in which the last entries were made, the accounting documents were created and the business correspondence was received or received.

In the VAT law under Article 70, a similar entry is to be found:

Section 2
The taxable person has to keep his books, receipts, business papers and other records properly for ten years. Article 962 paragraph 2 of the Code of Obligations1 is reserved. The business documents relating to immovable objects must, however, be kept for 20 years. If, after the retention period has expired, the statute of limitations of the tax claim to which the business books, receipts, business papers and other records refer, has not yet occurred, the retention obligation lasts until this statute of limitations occurs.

Requirements in connection with land

The retention period for business documents is in accordance with Art. 70 no. 3 VAT 20 years.


The retention period ( English RetentionPeriod ) plays an important role in the English-speaking records management solutions for managing storage requiring documentation.

Web links

Wiktionary: retention period  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Guideline on the storage of files and other written material in the administration of the Free State of Thuringia , Ser. No. 5.8
  2. ^ Independent State Center for Data Protection Schleswig-Holstein
  3. Occupational medicine rule AMR No. 6.1 "Deadlines for the storage of medical documents" v. 02/24/2014
  4. Student Document Ordinance of September 11, 2015, GVBl. P. 349
  5. Code of Obligations, Article 985f
  6. Value Added Tax Act, Article 70