The retention period of a document is an aspect of records management. It represents the period of time a document should be kept or "retained" both electronically and in paper format. At the termination of the retention period, the document is usually destroyed. The term is generally used by accountants and tax professionals whose occupation involves dealing with legal documents that only need to remain in existence for a certain amount of time. The retention period varies for different types of records. For example, business incorporation documents have a permanent retention period (meaning that they should be retained and never be destroyed), but receipts for tax-deductible purchases by an individual taxpayer usually have a three-year retention period (and can often be safely discarded after that point.) The length of the retention period vary by industry and are based on the likelihood that the document will be needed at some point in the future for litigation reasons. Records that will serve no further purpose (as determined by the length of their retention period) are destroyed for space issues, usually by paper shredders. Document retention periods also differ by country as well as by document type.
Organizations such as ARMA (Association of Records Managers and Administrators) set standards for records retention periods. Retention requirements are also established for a variety of electronic records in industry-specific legislation (such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act) and regulatory bodies (such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) in the United States.
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