Anyone who is closely related to an accountant knows that there are not four, but five seasons in a year: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and 'Tax Season.' During the other seasons, we accumulate leaves, snow, and mosquito bites. During 'Tax Season' we accumulate paper. And more paper. And if you have a small business or investments--even more paper.
Whether you hire someone to prepare your taxes or attempt to decipher the forms yourself, it is imperative that your papers be in order for this 'fifth season.' Organizing your tax-related documents is not just a project for the evening of April 13th. Good tax organization is a year-round process.
Some pitfalls of being disorganized at tax time:
- You run the risk of misplacing important receipts/documents
- You feel stressed from the mad dash to the tax preparer/post office on April 14th
- Your tax preparer may charge you more money if they have to spend time wading through your piles of loose receipts.
How to remedy these tax-time situations? Prepare now for next year by getting organized!
Set up an all-year round file system
Designate a box, accordion file, or a file cabinet for year-round paper storage and retrieval. Create folders for receipts, credit card and bank statements, anything you have spent money on or need to keep track of for tax purposes. As you acquire such documents, place them in the appropriately labeled folder. This is beneficial not only for tax time but for when you have to retrieve certain papers throughout the year.
Give your tax-related papers a home
Every January, our mailboxes become flooded with documents necessary for filing your taxes. At the beginning of the year, designate a large envelope or box in one area of your home or a file in your file cabinet for these papers. Examples of these are:
- Mortgage interest statements
- Bank interest statements
- Real estate tax statements
- Investment statements
- Receipts for charitable donations
Sort and create categories for your papers/receipts
By early February you should have received all paperwork necessary to complete your taxes. Take that envelope/box/file of collected papers and sort them by category. This process will enable you or your tax preparer to quickly locate your papers and receipts. Some basic categories are:
- Real Estate
Save your tax preparer aggravation by throwing away the envelopes that your statements came in and tear off the perforated edges from your income statements. Group the documents into the categories youíve created and paper clip them together. Place all of these papers in a folder or large envelope.
Call your tax preparer early
If you're using a tax preparer, call in January to schedule a mid to late February tax appointment. Doing this forces you to organize and compile all the necessary information by that date. Also, accountants get very busy as April 15th approaches. You donít want an exhausted accountant doing your taxes...
Being organized at tax time will give you greater control over the tax preparation process. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, you will feel a sense of calm and accomplishment. Instead of frantically searching for documents you will be able to produce them at a momentís notice. Instead of your accountant cursing your name, he/she will sing your praises when you present them with an envelope of organized papers and receipts.
The sooner you get organized for tax time the sooner you may get that big refund check. If thatís not motivation enough, I donít know what is...
Stacey Agin Murray, professional organizer and owner of Organized Artistry, LLC, transforms mess into masterpiece with patience, organizing know-how, and a sense of humor. For a free e-list of Top Ten Tips for Organized Living, or to order your copy of 7 Steps to an Organized Wedding Thank You Note please visit her web site at http://www.organizedartistry.com.