June 23, 2017

Organizing your tax paperwork before April 15

We all dread tax time. There’s something about all of the paperwork, headaches, and hassles that make most of us inherently want to avoid anything to do with it the other 364 days of the year. But a little bit of planning can go a long way towards reducing your tax season stress. With a new tax season just months away (for most of us), maybe it’s time to get organized now. When you breeze through your tax preparation next year, you’ll be glad you did.

When organizing your paperwork, don’t overwhelm yourself by making it too complicated. Simple is easier to follow. And if your system is easy to follow, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. The simplest thing to do is take everything tax related and put it into one folder. Throughout the year, toss in everything you think you’ll need at tax time: pay stubs, un-reimbursed work expenses, medical receipts, charitable donation receipts, daycare expenses, and anything you think might be a write-off. Don’t wait until December to do it.

Every time you clean out your wallet or sit down to pay bills, toss the relevant paperwork in your tax file. When you get ready to do your taxes, you’ll still have to organize the types of expenses, but at least you’ll have everything in one place. That alone can save you hours of looking for things. And if you wait until April 15 to prepare and file, you’ll be glad to get done before midnight.

The next step is to use an accordion file to divide up your tax receipts by category. Put all of your work-related expenses in one section, medical and dental in another, and childcare in yet another. I organize mine by the categories in my tax software, since I use the same one each year. That way, all I have to do is total the receipts and enter the amount. When I sort up-front, it saves hours during data entry.

If you use an accountant, ask him or her what categories you should divide your receipts into. It will save them time when they are doing your taxes – which saves you money. But a big folder of receipts is better than nothing at all, so if you don’t have time to file in categories, at least designate a tax file and drop everything into it.

If you’re self-employed and filing taxes quarterly, it’s even more important that you stay organized and on top of your paperwork. You don’t want to miss a filing deadline because you were too busy to save your receipts in one place.

Whether you organize your receipts daily, weekly, or monthly, make sure you set aside time regularly. Don’t let the pile get so big that you get overwhelmed and decide not to do anything. And if you do let it get away from you, you can get back on track easily. Just take 5 or 10 minutes in the evening a few days a week, or a half hour on the weekend and get as much done as you can. In no time you’ll get through the paperwork piles and be ready to go for next year.

A little organizing now will help your paperwork headache later. It probably won’t do much for the aching in your wallet if you owe money. But at least you won’t be adding insult to injury.

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Blogging Platforms: Which One is Right for You?

Update: Since the original writing of this, Vox has closed its doors. You can now get a free, basic blog on the Typepad site.

The six most commonly used blogging services

If you’re just starting a web log, or thinking about it, you should know about the various types of blogging platforms, their levels of difficulty and their costs. Software starts at free, but limited, and goes up to business-level costs and support. Here’s a list of the six most common blogging platforms. There are many more blogging communities and software available, which we’ll cover at a later time.

1) Blogger (http://www.blogger.com)

Owned by Google, Blogger is one of the more popular free services. You can set up a blog on their site relatively easily. With Blogspot, they host your blog posts, template design, and software. You set up an account, choose a template, and start typing! Blogger also allows you to set up a blog using your own hosting space. For instance if your ISP (the company that provides your internet access) gives you free hosting space, you can use that instead of Blogger’s space. This is helpful if you want to post a lot of pictures and you exceed Blogger’s limit. If you’re brand new to blogging and don’t have your own hosting space or don’t know what it is, start with letting Blogger set up everything for you.

2) Vox (http://www.vox.com)

Owned by Six Apart, Vox is another free service. It’s incredibly easy to use and they have a lot of easy to install templates – just choose one and the look of your site changes immediately. They also make it easy to add pictures, books, and music. Vox is big on building community and encourages members to interact with each other and join discussion groups. Vox has varying levels of posts: public, friends only, and private, just to name a few. So you can decide who sees your entries and who doesn’t.

3) LiveJournal (http://www.livejournal.com)

LiveJournal is one of the original journal sites. Another free service, it’s also easy to set up and use. You can friend other people and participate in topic-based communities. Like Vox, LiveJournal allows you to restrict your posts to certain audiences.

4) WordPress (http://www.wordpress.com)

WordPress is yet one more free service. You can find free templates, set passwords on posts, and even set posts to show up on a future date. It’s a powerful and versatile hosting service. While similar to Blogger, it appears to have a lot more available options and customization. Also like Blogger, you can use your own web space to host a WordPress blog. But with WordPress, you install the software on your server and tailor everything to suit your needs there. WordPress (http://wordpress.org) is open source software. That means the background source code is available to anyone. This allows developers to improve the software and to more easily make plug-ins that work along with it. With plug-ins, you can use spam blockers to help prevent spam comments (one of the occasional annoyances of having a blog) or install fun things that help your readers interact with you more. WordPress, when installed on your own site, is a lot more versatile and powerful but also requires some technical knowledge (or hiring someone with that technical knowledge to install and customize it for you).

5) Movable Type (http://movabletype.com)

Movable Type, owned by the same company as Vox and LiveJournal, is free software for personal use. It is not hosted for you, however, so you must have your own hosting space. It also requires some technical knowledge to install and set up a template. There are many design companies, though, that will install the software and a template for you. Movable Type also has commercial versions available for businesses wanting a robust blogging platform that allows multiple blogs.

6) TypePad (http://typepad.com)

TypePad is another hosted service, saving you the hassle of setting up your own hosting space. However, TypePad is not free after the 14-day trial. Monthly fees start as low as $4.95 per month, which includes support, and goes up to business level. Many free platforms don’t include technical support. Instead, they rely on community message boards where users post problems and other users answer the questions. TypePad users can also choose various templates, which are easy to select and customize.

There you have it – six of the most popular blogging services available. Each has its own pros and cons, so read the sites carefully before deciding which platform you want to use. If you know other bloggers, look at their sites and see what platform they use. Then ask them, based on your level of knowledge, how easy it is to set up and use. With the free services, though, it’s easy to give them a trial run and see if you like it. We’ll have more in-depth articles about the platforms and offer more alternatives at a later date.

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