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Retention guidelines are those specific time frames in which archives are kept based on either legal, financial, operational, or historical needs of the organization. For instance, retention of tax returns and their supporting documentation should be kept (for individuals) for seven years plus the current year. This is required by United States federal law.
One of the first steps in creating a viable records and information management program in any organization is to determine what the legal basis is for the organization, what their financial obligations are, and how the operations (the core business functions) are affected by the legal and financial requirements. Finally, as in the case of federal government, whether or not there is an historical necessity to keep certain kinds of records for the long term.
A retention plan is probably the single most important piece of a comprehensive records and information management program.