Records and Documents Needed to Reduce Stress at Tax Time

You might be wondering why we’re talking about tax documents when it’s only September. Isn’t September about enjoying the fleeting moments of summer and the cooler days of autumn? Shouldn’t we be worried about tax documents when there’s snow on the ground?  Well, not if you are one of the people who filed an extension for tax year 2010.  You only have until October 17th, but don’t worry,  here are some tax tips to take the stress out of filing your taxes whether you are under the gun or not.

One of the best ways to reduce your stress at tax time is to have your documents organized in one place. Instead of searching for them, your best option is usually to create a special file for your tax related documents and receipts. You can either keep a file folder for these tax records, or you can keep a digital file on your computer, by scanning in receipts and pertinent documents.

As you prepare for tax time, here are some of the documents and records you will want to keep ready:

Individuals

You have a number of opportunities for deductions and credits as a taxpaying individual. Anytime you claim a credit or deduction, you should have documentation to back it up and documentation is notoriously annoying to collect so you should start early. Additionally, you will need records proving your income. In many cases, you will receive a document from other sources, as in the case of a mortgage interest statement, or in the case of a W-2 form showing your income.

Other items of documentation that you will want to have come tax time include:

  • Receipts for charitable contributions of money and goods.
  • Mileage logs
  • Receipts for deductible expenses (including receipts for qualified health care expenses paid for from a HSA or FSA).
  • Receipts for credits, including receipts for items bought if you want to claim an energy tax credit.
  • Information about investment transactions, including buying and selling information, and cost basis information, including IRA records (usually provided to you).
  • Records related to your rental property.
  • Records related to a home improvement project or home purchase.
  • Receipts for dependent care expenses paid.

In some cases, if you don’t have the receipt, a copy of a canceled check can provide the record you need. You can usually get these from your financial institution, if copies of canceled checks aren’t included with your account statement.

Businesses

If you own a business, you will have other tax issues to deal with. You will need to make sure that your business records are separate from your individual records. Do your best to make sure that there is a defining line between personal and business tax records so that you can more easily separate them during tax time. Some of the records that you will need at tax time include:

  • Gross receipts. These can include deposit slips, register tapes, invoices, 1099 forms, and receipt books.
  • Records of business related purchases, including receipts, canceled checks, and paid invoices.
  • You should also keep track of expense documents related to business. This can include business travel receipts, expense requests, and other items.
  • Mileage logs for vehicles involved.
  • Documents that help verify the assets that your business holds, including closing documents for real estate, and bills of sale. This is especially important if you have purchased equipment for your business.
  • Payroll and benefits information. Keep track of what you are paying employees, and the benefits they are getting.

If you automatically keep these records in some sort of a file throughout the year, you will have them easily accessible during tax season, and a great deal of stress will be avoided. If you have a scanner, I recommend scanning all these documents and keeping an electronic version just in case you misplace that file throughout the year.

For more information on this topic, also see our Getting Organized for Tax Time blog.

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