August 30, 2014

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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