DEAR SUN SPOTS: Could you find out about the new EBT cards having to have pictures on them? I am 82 years old and shut-in, and my family has to get my groceries. How would that work? Thanks for such good service. — No Name, Lewiston

ANSWER: For readers who might not know, EBT stands for electronic benefits transfer, which is aid (such as the supplemental nutrition assistance program) from the state and/or federal government for people who meet income requirements. 

Maine recently began requiring the photo of the recipient to appear on the card to limit fraud.

For an answer to No Name’s question, Sun Spots emailed John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, who wrote back that:

“The federal food supplement program allows for ‘authorized users’ to make purchases on the EBT for people who are unable to shop for themselves. Family members may continue to make these purchases, as long as they have the personal identification number (PIN) associated with the card.”

DEAR SUN SPOTS: How far back do we need to go to keep receipts? What is the state/federal law? Should we contact, for instance, the cable company, to see what their policy is? This includes, but not limited to, phone, electricity, business receipts, cable, bank statements, prescriptions. Thank you for all that you do. — No Name via email

ANSWER: The Internal Revenue Service and Maine Revenue require citizens to prove any deducted expenses with receipts. You should save receipts for taxable deductions for seven years.

Another area where receipts are needed is for warranties on things you buy. Save receipts for warrantied items for as long as the warranty is good or for four years (Maine’s consumer law covers that timespan), whichever is longer.

If you run a small business or work from home, your need to retain receipts will be greater than someone who works for a wage with their only income being reported on a W-2.

This is particularly true for utilities (cable, phone, electric, etc.). Unless you deduct those expenses for a home business or other tax reason, you would have no need for the receipts once the credit is posted to your account. You do want to hang onto receipts until the following statement arrives to verify they were posted accurately. Three months is probably safe.

You might want to hang onto bank and credit card statements a little longer, again depending on your situation. You want to make sure that everything has posted correctly before tossing any receipts. You may also need a credit card statement if you file a dispute over a purchase that has not worked out.

Sun Spots uses a three-ring binder with tabs for each month for all bank and credit card statements and keeps them in alphabetical order by the name of the bank. Deposit slips are stapled to the appropriate statement. 

Another technique, one that Sun Spots’ mother used, is to keep monthly credit card bills and bank statement in their envelopes along with all the receipts that went with each. Mom wrote the date she paid the bill on the outside of the envelope. At the end of each year she’d throw a previous year’s receipts out. Again, how many years to keep depends on your financial situation.

Sun Spots keeps receipts for run-of-the-mill purchases, such as groceries, health and beauty aids, etc., in files for each quarter (January to March, April to June). That way if she needs a receipt for a return it is easier to find. Also, for some taxpayers sales tax is deductible, so you would need those receipts.

Receipts for warranty items she staples to the front of the owner manual and files. Some examples of file names are large appliances, heating and cooling, furniture, etc.

Anyone with their own business should also have files for all the expenses related to running a business: auto expenses, meals and entertainment, office expenses, supplies, etc.

And if you itemize deductions, don’t forget to save receipts for charitable deductions, including mileage logs. 

Medical bills can take a long time to process, so you want to hang onto those receipts for at least a year or two, seven years if deductible. While you may not need the receipts for every prescription, it is important to keep a record of all the prescriptions you’ve taken in case you need to provide a list of them for a doctor. It’s also a good idea to note any bad drug reaction in your records.

Sun Spots is not an accountant. Please consult an expert if you have any doubts. Meanwhile, perhaps some readers will share how they handle their record-keeping. 

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected]

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