Legally compliant e-mail storage according to GoBD
On January 1, 2017, the "Principles for the proper keeping and storage of books, records and documents in electronic form and for data access" (GoBD) will finally come into force. This also includes the regulations for the legally compliant storage of e-mails and e-mail attachments, for which there will no longer be any exceptions as of the cut-off date. The GoBD replaces all other regulations of the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) that previously applied to the retention of business documents. In detail, these are the "Principles for Data Access and Verifiability of Digital Documents" (GDPdU) and the "Principles for Proper IT-Based Accounting Systems" (GoBS).
With the publication of the GoBD on November 14, 2014, the BMF primarily contributed to the fact that InvoiceThe fact that electronic data exchange, paperless bookkeeping and digitally stored documentation of all relevant business transactions is commonplace in the everyday business life of companies of all sizes and will continue to grow in the future. In this context, e-mails represent a special case for which a few points must be observed in order to meet the requirements of the GoBD.
Principles of e-mail storage and archiving
You do not have to archive a pure Christmas or birthday greeting to one or more business partners. As soon as a E-mail but the Function of a business letter or voucher, it must be stored like other documents in accordance with the usual retention periods. The same applies to all attachments with fiscal relevance, i.e. invoices, offers etc. If the Text of the E-Mail can only be deleted as a covering letter with which an invoice, an offer or a delivery note is sent. This can be compared to an envelope that is thrown into the waste basket after the contents have been removed. In this case, only the appendix is archived, but it must contain all the mandatory information for a (turnover) tax assessment.
Constant availability and machine evaluation required
All e-mails that are subject to the archiving obligation must, just like all other electronically generated records and documents including attachments, be available for examination at any time and must be completely protected against manipulation by third parties. You must also ensure that the archived emails can be evaluated automatically. According to GoBD regulations, it is not sufficient to simply print out the documents and store them in paper form. If you use an encryption method for archiving your e-mails, you are also obliged to allow unencrypted access in case of a possible tax audit. This ensures that the documents can be checked via full text search and evaluated automatically.
Time limits for e-mail storage
The retention period is six to ten years, depending on the tax relevance and type of e-mail. The period always begins at the end of the calendar year in which the e-mail was created. This means that you must archive a letter dated January 2 for almost seven or eleven years, as the period does not begin until the next January 1. For all companies and tradespeople, these GoBD regulations represent an effort that should not be underestimated, as all invoices, commercial letters, offers, delivery notes, etc. must be stored in accordance with the GoBD and made available on call at any time. Sufficient resources must be provided for this purpose.
The handling of private e-mails
Some companies allow their employees to use the company's own mail server or Provider for private emails. In this context, the question arises as to how private messages are handled in terms of storage. Employees can agree to their e-mails being archived by means of a corresponding paragraph in their employment contract or an internal company agreement. However, there may be problems with data protection here, as the privacy of external senders and recipients is also affected. For this reason, we recommend that you ensure a strict separation of business and private e-mails or that you keep private correspondence about your Server generally prohibit.
Software solution or manual work?
A freelancer or a very small company may still be able to handle the tasks of e-mail storage "by hand". From a certain company size on Costs and effort but no longer in a reasonable relation to the benefit. In this case only a good and secure software solution that meets the criteria for Legal certainty is fulfilled as well as machine evaluation and a full-text search is allowed. Such a Software must perform at least the following five tasks. All incoming and outgoing e-mails must be completely recorded and stored. This is best done before forwarding to the addressees. Furthermore, the archiving must be true to the original and without loss of information. Thirdly, a secure Protection must be guaranteed against manipulation. Access by simple users who do not have administrator rights must be prevented throughout the entire retention period to prevent premature deletion. And last but not least, archiving software must allow complete access at all times in the event of a tax audit.
If you approach and fulfil all the points mentioned correctly, you will - as far as e-mail storage is concerned - not have any problems with the tax office.
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