6 Tips For Staying Organized During Tax Season
by Tim Wagner
April 14 might be the only non-holiday of the year that all Americans instantly recognize. It is the deadline for filing your federal income taxes. Millions of tax payers gather the documents and information necessary to file their tax forms, and keeping track of all the forms – W2s, tax deductible donations, receipts, medical expenses, etc. – can be a daunting task. To help you stay organized, Cash Store has put together a list of tips that will help you complete your tax forms as fast and accurately as possible.
#1 Organize All Year
The first step is to start organizing for next year.
- A $15 investment in an accordion type expanding file folder will handle a year’s worth of tax paperwork
- Keep receipts in one file, tax documents in another, donation receipts in another, and so on; some file folders even have files labeled “health care,” “bank statements,” etc.
- If you’re using TurboTax and filing yourself, you’ll appreciate having paperwork separated for the appropriate sections to make entering information more efficient
#2 Keep Social Security Numbers Handy
Your tax returns will require your SSN and those of your spouse and any dependents.
- Many people carry their Social Security cards in their wallets, but that’s not a great practice in case you lose your wallet
- They should be stored in a secure location like a fire-proof safe
- If you have child care, you’ll need the social security number of that person or the tax ID of the business
#3 Start with W2s and 1099s
These two categories of documents represent your income – from work and from investments. Even if you just have a simple savings account, you may have to pay federal income taxes on the interest earned. But, nothing else matters until you have all of the documents about your income from the previous year.
#4 Online Spreadsheets
Some of you may be independent contractors or otherwise self-employed. For you, a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheets will be one of your best friends when it comes to taxes!
- More easily calculate deductions that come from business expenses like mileage and receipts with the formulas from these programs, like “auto sum”
- Advanced formulas can even multiply miles by the standard monetary deduction per mile and provide an expected tax deduction
- Create separate pages for the different categories of incomes and expenses and save a workbook for each year
- Or use different columns and rows on one sheet for each year and save a whole tax workbook of different years – might be helpful for comparing income and expenses over time
#5 Keep Big Receipts & Unusual Bills Separate
Each year the current tax laws change a little or a lot. Did you know you can deduct the sales tax associated with large purchases, like a new vehicle? What about deducting the cost of certain new energy-efficient home appliances or home improvements?
- Keep all of your receipts from large purchases and large bills (medical, for instance) separate from other receipts and bills
- You may be in for bigger tax reductions than you expected
#6 Keep 7 Years of Previous Returns & Documents
Finally, anything you use to prepare your tax returns each year should be stored with the IRS tax form 1040 and any state income tax forms. That includes receipts, your W2s and 1099s, bills – everything that got entered.
- Keep them in a file or manila envelope, and keep each year separate
- Don’t throw anything away until it is more than 7 years old
- If older than 7 years, shred it or otherwise destroy it so your personal information can’t be stolen
Written by Tim Wagner
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