Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed. Most of us have probably thought about emergency plans in case of a disaster. Escape routes, family communication guidelines, utility shutoff procedures, and safety skills (CPR) are essential to any household disaster plan. You’ve developed a plan to safeguard your family, but what about safeguarding vital documents like your tax information? Everyone should secure their tax forms and other related financial information against the possibility of loss or damage due to natural disasters.
Prepare: Create a Backup Set of Records
The most important thing you can do to safeguard your tax records and related tax and financial information is to create a backup set of records in an electronic format, keeping them in a safe and secure location away from the original documents. Many documents, such as bank statements, tax returns, and insurance policies, are already available in an electronic format. For any paper documents that you may have, scan them into your computer using a standalone scanner or an all-in-one-printer.
When you’ve collected all of your important tax and financial information in an electronic format, make sure to save everything onto a backup storage device such as an external hard drive, a writable DVD or CD, a USB flash memory drive, or an online data backup service. Internet data backup services are growing in popularity because they offer “off-site” electronic data backup and recovery. This means that if your house (and your external hard drive) are burned down, flooded, or torn apart, you can easily recover your information with an internet connection.
If scanning documents and saving electronic files seems too complicated, you can always make hard copies of all of your information. Just be sure to store these copies in a separate and secure location from your original documents. No matter if you choose electronic copies or paper copies, the most important thing you can do to safeguard your tax information is to create a backup set of records.
Plan: Take Inventory of Your Records and Possessions
You may laugh, but you need to remember where you saved and stored your tax information and you need to take inventory of your possessions. If a disaster strikes, you will eventually need to find your tax information and begin the process of recovery. The IRS cannot help you remember where you saved your backup set of records, that’s on you. But the IRS does offer a Casualty Disaster and Theft Loss Workbook, Publication 584. This workbook will assist you in creating a written and photographed record of what you own (but it must be completed before a disaster strikes). And just like the backup records of your tax information, this workbook should also be stored in a separate and secure location.
Stay Informed: Questions and Recovery
To learn more, read What about Tax Relief in Disaster Situations, Would Your Tax Records Survive a Natural Disaster, or contact the IRS by visiting www.IRS.gov (keyword search “disaster”) with any questions or concerns you may have about safeguarding your tax information. If you are a victim of a disaster, you can contact the IRS Disaster Hotline at 1-866-562-5227 to speak with a trained disaster-related specialist. Transcripts of your previous tax returns may be requested online at IRS tax return transcripts, by phone at 1-800-908-9946, or by filling out Form 4506T-EZ and mailing to the address listed in the instructions. Official tax return copies may be requested by filing out Form 4506, or by phone at 1-800-908-9946.