Thursday, January 26, 2012

Organizing Tax Papers-Keeping it Simple

Tax season is upon us and it is time to gather those papers and either complete your own taxes or hand them over to your accountant. Either way, you want them to be easy to understand and easy to complete.

If you start out the new year with a plan, your gathering at the end of the year will be easier. You should always have a folder in your filing cabinet marked "taxes". Most of us do not receive any tax papers until January, but you do make contributions and donate items to local charities throughout the year. A single file will be so much easier and simpler in January then looking through drawers and hundreds of papers. Many of us have medical bills we pay throughout the year. If you have a health savings account through work, you should keep the receipts for those bills you paid through the debit card you were given. Many individuals do not have enough medical payments throughout the year to deduct, but for those you do, a file with all those receipts will be much easier for you or your accountant to add up in January.

If you own a business, as I do, keeping the receipts for your business is just as important. This too should be a single file. I separate mine into an excel spreadsheet by the type of expense it is according to a Schedule C. You might you use Quicken or Quickbooks which will help you in this category organization too. If you write off a room as an office, you will want your gas and electric bills as well to write off the percentage that pertains to your situation.

Other tax items I have not mentioned may pertain to you and those papers should be in a separate file if they come in throughout the year. For those papers you receive only in January, a large expandable file is a great way to collect them and keep track of them until you are ready to complete your taxes. Do not lay them down in an already cluttered area where you may never find them again. I find donations and receipts in many of my clients homes that they could have used in previous tax years. It might not be a big amount, but if you add them all up and over the years, they could have reduced their tax bill.
If you have to spend hours looking for all your tax papers, complete the search in sections. Break the area down to small manageable spaces you can search in an hour or less. Try the tips above to eliminate this process next year.

Organizing Your Desk

Your desk is your world whether it is at home or in an office. You have important papers, reports, miscellaneous papers and not so important papers. The biggest question is, are you able to find items you need in minutes? Do you know where that report you have been working on is, or where your passport and social security cards are? If the answer is no, you probably need some help with your desk and the paperwork that comes in on a daily basis and the items you should be keeping and know exactly where they are at all times. A bulletin board makes a great choice for all papers that have an end date. For home, those might include schedules for your child's sports, the school year schedule, and invitations to birthday parties or weddings. For the office, the bulletin board makes a great place for meeting dates, conferences you will be attending and project schedules. Overall, avoid making the bulletin board a place where miscellaneous items just end up in a mish mash of placement because important dates will be lost and missed. Hopefully we have gotten a few papers off your desk. What remains and where should it go? The rest of the papers more than likely require an action of some type. You might need to call for an appointment, or to get information for a report. Keeping it straight and not losing it is the key. You can try the calendar and schedule each task when it is due or needed. Whether you use a wall calendar, your computer, your smart phone, or a day calendar, make sure you use only one. I have been in many clients homes who have to check more than one calendar to schedule our next appointment. This just causes confusion, stress and a way to over schedule which inevitably happens at least once during our time together.

If piles are more your style but you don't like them all over the place because they end up mixed up and you miss dates, try a pile filer. Many companies make such a product for very little cost to you. Just Google "pile filer" and you will find many products to help you keep your piles in order with separate tabs. You can have tabs for calls to be made, orders to be placed, or correspondence to answer.

For your home office and desk, make sure you bring in all the papers in from around the house. Have a place for bills and and a place for important papers. For your personal documents such as passports, social security numbers, house deed, and other papers that would be very difficult or costly to replace should be kept in a waterproof, fireproof safe.
Make sure that to do pile is reviewed weekly and if it has been in the pile for over 30 days, you are probably not going to move forward so give yourself permission to throw it out. Keeping your desk organized will help your productivity and relieve the stress.