Today I'm taking the plunge and tackling our tax returns. I have a rare day in which I don't have any commitments and the kids are off at school, so it's the perfect day to tackle our tax returns. The peace and quiet of being alone in the house ensures that my head won't explode in the process.
Yes, I know, what a boring subject to post about. Yes, yes, I agree. However, I have a purpose with this post. I want to share with you how I stay organized all year to make this dreaded day more bearable.
Before I do that though, I want to gush over the invention of tax preparation software. Gone are the days of trekking to the post office or the library for more forms after screwing up the one set of forms sent to us by the IRS. Gone are the days of reading incomprehensible gobbledy goop trying to figure out which number goes where. Enter tax software. Yippee!
Hey, I'm sorry, this is the kind of thing that floats my boat, okay. I'm trying to make this less painful is all.
So, the software that I have been using for the past several years is H&R Block's Tax Cut. I used to use Turbo Tax, but they kept raising their prices, their customer service stank, and they started charging for state returns and e-filing. I made the switch to Tax Cut because the state return is included free as a download, and the cost of one federal e-file is included, plus the software itself is cheaper. The e-filing is usually around $15, so with the cost of the software and one of the e-files included, you can see why I made the switch. I don't mean to diss Turbo Tax, it's a great software and all that, I just don't want to pay more for the same thing. It's not like it's ribbon or something. Come on.
This is my method for staying organized year-long for tax preparation. It's just a three ring binder, and it's nothing pretty, just a view binder with the tax year on the cover and spine, and file pocket dividers inside. Sure, I could make it pretty, but let's be real here, it's going to hold tax returns. Blech.
I have eight binders in all. Seven binders are for holding tax returns and documentation for years past (the recommended length of time for keeping these papers), and one for the current year's accumulation. When I've finished preparing tax returns for a given year, I take the oldest binder out, shred the tax returns and accompanying paper bits inside, and then I begin the new year's accumulation with the dividers already set-up and ready to go. All I have to do is change the tax year on the cover and the spine.
I store these binders in my file cabinet because that's where I have space for them and I keep it locked. The big stack of papers between the binders are customer receipts for my Creative Memories business. I didn't want to make bigger binders for these because this stuff doesn't need to be as accessible as what's inside the binders. I would only need to access these papers if I were audited. [Shudder]
Here's what my pocket dividers look like. I typed the labels based on what our tax returns have looked like in the past. The first pocket divider is always for income--pay stubs, W-2s, 1099s, pimping my plasma, etc.
My deductions divider has a bit more, but I don't necessarily use all these categories every year. It's more of an overview to jog my memory. If you want to make dividers for your binders, I would suggest going down your 1040 form line by line and pulling categories from it based on the lines you have filled out in years past.
I have a section for Schedule C because that's where I keep documents related to my business. This needs to be reported on a separate form, so it needs a separate section.
So, I have all these sections in my binders, and as the year goes on and related items come in, I file them into my binder for the current year so that at the end of the year I don't have the whole gathering-of-the-paperwork-nightmare to deal with. It's all there in the binder already.
If you have someone else prepare your taxes for you, getting organized like this can save you loads of money. Trust me. Once upon a time, I had a little side business in which I did bookkeeping for small businesses and tax return preparation. The first year with a client was always a head exploding experience, getting them all set up with so many scraps of paper all stuffed into a shoe box. People really do store important papers like that.
So, I hope this helps some of you to get more organized and make the process a little less stressful. And if you're one of the shoe box people, May the Force Be With You. Happy Tax Season!
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