Ideally, if you plan to deduct an expense on your taxes, you should save any receipts you receive. But if you can't find your receipts or you never got them, you may still be able to deduct those expenses, especially if you have other documentation such as bank or credit card statements. The more information you have, the better, though. Under what's often called the Cohan Rule, the Internal Revenue Service generally should consider reasonable documentation you can produce.
While it is best to save receipts to prove deductible expenses on your taxes, you may be able to use statements and other documentation to prove deductions.
Ask for a Receipt
If you travel for business, buy something for your company or make a donation to charity, and you plan to take a tax deduction, it's a good idea to get a receipt. If you can't get one at the time of the transaction or you misplace it, you may still be able to obtain one. Ideally, you would want the receipt to be as detailed as possible, including specific items that you bought or donated.
Sometimes you can find copies of receipts for purchases in your online account, and a brick-and-mortar store or charity may be able to give you one after the fact based on its records, so it can be worth reaching out. In some cases, you also might be able to find a copy of your receipt in your email inbox, if one was sent to you.
Find Other Documentation
Sometimes you might not be able to get a receipt. Perhaps the taxi on the way to the airport for a business trip had a broken printer or a store where you stopped for office stationery has gone out of business.
In that case, if you plan to take a tax deduction, you'll want to pull together whatever documentation of your transactions you can find. For example, you might have a bank or credit card statement showing that you paid a taxi company in a particular city on a particular date, along with airline tickets and emails substantiating that you traveled there for business.
If you shopped at a stationery store, you might have a credit card statement showing how much you spent, as well as prior receipts from other trips to the store for business-related supplies.
If you made a deduction to a charity and can't find or replace a receipt, you might have a canceled check or credit card statement showing your donation.
The Cohan Rule
In general, under what's called the Cohan Rule, established in 1930 after a tax dispute involving playwright and composer George M. Cohan, the IRS is supposed to consider estimates of expenses and whatever corroborating evidence taxpayers can produce. The better the evidence that you can produce, the more likely the IRS is to accept your deductions, even in the event of an audit.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.