Well, we now have less than 3 months to go until tax day on April 15th. As a licensed CPA, this is a topic close to my heart (actually, it’s not at all, but considering the ridiculous amount of time I spent studying for that exam and working in public accounting, I feel like I should at least pretend I still have an interest in taxes and accounting…). Whether you do your own taxes or have them done by a friend or professional, keeping your annual documents well-organized can help make the impending tax deadline a little less dreadful. I have a few tips for keeping things in order.
Disclaimer: I may be an expert list maker, and the coolest CPA you know, but I do not file taxes for a living. If you have a complicated tax return, or are unsure of any of the documents you have, you should consult a real live tax accountant!
This is the most important tip I have: start a ‘2011 Taxes’ folder. Like, right now. If this is the one tax-related thing you do this week, or even this month, you are probably way ahead of where you were this time last year, and will be right on track for an organized tax season. If it will help to get you motivated, use a fun, colorful folder. I like See Jane Work for fun office supplies, and they have a good selection of funky folders that would be perfect for this purpose.
Next, pull out a copy of your 2010 returns (Federal, State, etc.) and put them in the folder. Your previous year’s returns are your best reference tool for your current year’s filing. Look through the returns and note all the areas where you had supporting documents in the previous year (e.g., a Form W-2 from your employer, a Form 1099 from your bank or investment institution, a Form 1098 from your mortgage lender, etc.). Remember that some organizations, like ING for example, do not automatically send you these forms – in these cases you will have to download and print them online.
Make a list of each of these forms (or statements, or receipts) and staple/tape this to the inside of the folder. As each one of the forms comes in for 2011, check it off on the list and add it to the folder. If any new documents come in for 2011 that seem tax-related, add them to the list and folder. They may or may not be relevant, but it’s always better to include them in the mix just in case. And of course, if you had any major life changes in 2011 (marriage, new children, etc.) be sure to note this somewhere on your list as it will require some changes to your current year’s return.
This system will help you to keep all of your 2011 tax documents in one safe place, and keep track of which documents you have, and which may require follow-up. And although it probably won’t lower your tax obligation for the year, it should help to make filing a little less “taxing”.