Organizing Your Taxes

Does this scene sound familiar? It's April 7. You haven't seen the top of your dining room table in two weeks because of the piles of paid bills, receipts, canceled checks, and unidentified cash register receipts covering it. Your head pounds and your stomach churns as the countdown to April 15 begins.

You might hate to pay taxes, think the system is unfair, dislike the forms, and even stage a mini-tax rebellion, but in the end the tax man cometh ? with penalty if you're not careful! The key to your survival is taking an organized approach to this unavoidable task.

There are really two issues here. Number one, of course, is getting the information together for this year's tax return. Number two is developing a strategy, which will eliminate the panic you're feeling now next year ? and now is the easiest time to do that too. Consider these tips:

? If you use a tax advisor, make an appointment to get together well before April 15. For the future, do it before the end of the tax year, and you may be able to save on your tax bill.

? Designate a specific, easily accessible place to keep all the information relevant to your tax return.

? Pay tax-deductible items by check or credit card whenever possible. If you have many tax-deductible items, get a separate credit card for those expenses.

Now, for this year:

Step 1: Collect all the records you can find: canceled checks, credit card receipts and statements, canceled checks, cash register receipts, calendars, and any articles or other information you may have collected with information about what you can deduct. (Use Post-it? Flags to highlight important information.) If you're not sure, discuss with your accounting the critical information to include with your tax return, including documents to support any wages or other income received as well as mortgage interest paid.

Step 2: Separate all the papers into appropriate categories. Put each one into a separate container ? large envelope, plastic basket or shoebox. Labeling each category with a Post-it? Note will make it easier to adjust your category names if you change your mind as you proceed. Since you will probably need more than one sitting to complete your taxes, these labeled containers make it easier to clear your work area, if necessary, and to find your place when you are ready to continue.

Step 3: Take one category at a time and eliminate (or staple together) any duplicate receipts. If you need to correlate your expenses with your calendar in order to prove tax-deductible expenses, such as in the case of entertainment, put all receipts in chronological order to speed up the process. (Use a different color Post-it? Flag for each deductible category.)

Step 4: Now you are ready to begin entering the information on the tax forms, into your computer program, or to take the information to your accountant. (Many accountants will provide a worksheet of compiling information.)

Once you've finished filing your return, the next consideration is how long to keep the material you've collected. The simple answer is to keep whatever you need to persuade the IRS that everything on your return is accurate, and hang on to the evidence for as long as the IRS has the right to question your return. But I'm sure you wanted a more practical answer!

Ordinarily that's three years from the due date for the return, including extensions, to assess any additional tax. But a return can be audited for six years if the IRS suspects the taxpayer has neglected to report substantial income. If fraud is suspected, there is no time limit.

Your record keeping system doesn't have to be elaborate or sophisticated. What is more important is to have a system ? and the discipline to keep it up to date.

Make sure to keep tax information separated by year. If you have a minimum amount of back-up material, one file folder may be sufficient. Staple together all information for each itemized deduction. Label it clearly with a Post-it? Note. Otherwise, use separate file folders or envelopes for each category. If you run a business and have a very large amount of material, use one storage box for each year. Make sure to label the outside of the box! Put all boxes together. As you put in this year's box, you can remove the box with information you no longer need to keep. Sorting your back-up materials will be easy to do right after you filed this year's return when the categories are fresh in your mind. If you are audited, it will be easy to provide documents to support your tax return.

In addition, consider these tax tips:

? If you write off the cost of a business car, keep the logbook in which you recorded your trips as well as evidence of the costs you incur.

? If you claim as a dependent someone who is not your child, keep a separate file for the evidence that shows you provide more than half of that person's support.

? Keep information that relates to the purchase of all homes at least six years after the sale of the last house. This includes your title, deed of purchase, and information about your home's purchase price, sales price, capital improvements and repairs.

© Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com

In The News:

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Red Meat Could Be the Next Sin Tax After Sugar, Fitch Says  BloombergMeat could be a target for higher taxes given criticism of the industry's role in climate change, deforestation and animal cruelty, according to a report by Fitch ...
Facebook, Amazon and Google call French digital tax discriminatory and retroactive  FirstpostThe proposed three percent tax on total annual revenues of companies that provide services to French consumers applies only to the largest tech companies.
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Kidney specialist charged in court for filing incorrect tax returns  The Straits TimesSINGAPORE - Kidney specialist Lye Wai Choong has been charged in courtfor filing incorrect tax returns, including three counts of understating the income of ...
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Tax terrorism: Embedded in laws & practice  Business StandardRead more about Tax terrorism: Embedded in laws & practice on Business Standard. Blaming tax officials will not help us get to the root of the issue.
How to get the most from this tax-free source of retirement income  CNBCRoth IRAs and Roth 401(k) plans aren't your only sources of tax-free income in retirement. Say hello to so-called permanent life insurance — a policy with an ...
Seven considerations for a tax-efficient move to Portugal  Portugal ResidentSeven considerations for a tax-efficient move to Portugal. If you have moved to the Algarve or are planning to relocate, you will appreciate it is a beautiful place ...
How to show your trading and F&O income in the tax returns?  BusinessLineBL Research BureauFor traders, aside from predicting the stock market, reporting income from intra-day trading or Futures & Options (F&O) in the tax ...
House Democrats say whistleblower bolsters case for getting Trump's tax returns  POLITICOA whistleblower recently made “credible allegations” to the Ways and Means Committee of potentially wrongful interference with the IRS' presidential audit ...
IRS Warnings to Bitcoin Traders Offer Clues to Coming Tax Guidance  CoinDeskThe Takeaway: The IRS' recent warning letters to 10,000 traders offer hints at what its forthcoming guidance on crypto taxes might say. While the letters are not ...
Is Proposition CC on the 2019 ballot in Colorado a tax hike? Here's the answer.  The Colorado SunBoth sides of the Proposition CC campaign see the answer to one question as critical to their chances at the 2019 ballot in Colorado: Is Prop CC a tax hike?
Don’t Ban Assault Weapons—Tax Them  The AtlanticThe nation is debating what to do about assault-style weapons, what gun-rights advocates like to call modern sporting rifles. Gun-rights champions argue that ...
We Could Eliminate Extreme Global Poverty If Multinationals Paid Their Taxes  TruthoutThe cost of global corporate tax avoidance is $500 billion and poor countries are bearing 40 percent of it.
Added Import Taxes in USA will Only Help Samsung, Tim Cook tells Donald Trump  News18US President Donald Trump has praised Apple CEO Tim Cook for "making a good case" that tariffs on China will help Samsung gain more as it is based in South ...
Mamata Banerjee attacks Centre over tax on Durga Puja, says will sit on dharna on August 13  India TodayWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee slammed the BJP-led government at the Centre for imposing tax on Durga Puja committees in the state and said ...
Opinion | Let the system tell you your capital gains tax  LivemintA government plan to pre-fill income tax return forms online with details of your capital gains could ease your compliance burden. In time, its coverage could ...
Indian markets may extend gains on hopes of tax relief for companies  LivemintIndian stocks markets may extend gains on Tuesday tracking global peers while a government panel mulls tax relief for companies. Asian equities rose further ...
Madras HC rejects Karti Chidambaram's plea in tax evasion case  India TodayThe Madras High Court on Wednesday rejected Karti Chidambaram's plea seeking an interim stay in income tax evasion case. Karti and his wife are in the dock ...
16 states are hosting tax-free shopping on school supplies. Should Hawaii be next?  Hawaii News NowAs students and teachers return to class, many families are spending hundreds of dollars on school supplies. So some lawmakers want to waive the taxes on ...
Trump sues over California law forcing candidates to turn over tax returns  CNNPresident Donald Trump sued California Tuesday challenging a state law that requires candidates for president to disclose income tax returns before they can ...
You might need to maintain tax returns records for seven years  LivemintIn today's digital age, income tax records can be maintained at little or no expense for long periods of time in a digital format. However, it is important to know the ...
Direct Tax Code 2.0: Proposed changes will bring cheer for individual taxpayers  The News MinuteThe current Income Tax Act has as many as 700 clauses /sections, and the Direct Tax Code 2.0 will aim at bringing this number down by a considerable margin.
SA must brace for more hikes in taxes, electricity tariffs - economist  Fin24The challenge posed by heavily indebted Eskom means that SA taxpayers must brace for higher taxes and further electricity price hikes, says Absa's Group chief ...
Tax-evading 'natural person' claims B.C. courts don't have jurisdiction over him  CBC NewsA B.C. man who describes himself as a "natural person" not subject to tax law has taken his fight against prison time to the province's highest court — and he has ...
Rich Canadians are getting out of paying taxes with 'estate freezes' — and the CRA endorses it  Financial PostOpinion: The CRA's position is baffling: It views an estate freeze as garden-variety tax planning. Other countries aren't as lenient.
Government's budget gap goal threatened by tax evasion as demand wanes  LivemintThe number of GST returns filed have declined, according to a report by CAG India.As per the provisional numbers, the government's total tax revenue in the last ...
Do I have to pay tax for the capital gains earned by my homemaker wife?  Economic TimesMy wife is a homemaker and she has invested Rs 40,000 of her savings in stocks. If she sells these stocks and earns short-term capital gains, will I have to pay ...
School district in Harlan might have to repay property taxes  LEX18 Lexington KY NewsThe Harlan County School District could be required to re-pay $73000 in property taxes, if a court rules in favor of Blackjewel Mining's sister company, ...
Do I have to pay capital gains tax if I switch between schemes of same mutual fund?  Economic Times"The switching of schemes would be considered as redemption or sale of units of one scheme and purchase of units of the other scheme."

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