By Carmen Coker
In the words of Dave Barry, “It’s income tax time again…time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta.”
Filing taxes = huge pain. We all know it. We all go through it once a year. And while there’s no way around tax season, there is a way to make the process less stressful – preparation. A little bit of preparation can make a huge difference in your tax filing experience, whether you do so weeks in advance or at the last minute. Not only can it help you get your tax refund faster if you qualify, but it can also help you avoid the high levels of stress normally associated with finishing your taxes.
If you’d love to come out the other end of tax season unscathed, then here are the best organizing tips to help you do just that. Think: T–A–X–E–S!
(1) Tally: Decide how many hours you need for tax prep.
First, choose a final date, such as “I want to be done with my taxes by April 10th.” Then work your timetable backwards from that date, planning around your work schedule, family responsibilities, and extracurriculars.
Second, think about how long it has taken you in the past to complete your taxes. If six hours of tax prep has been enough previously, then this year will likely be no different unless you had major changes in your life. So pencil in two hours on your calendar for three days between now and April 10th, or maybe one hour each evening for the next week.
(2) Assemble: Gather all tax-related documents.
Search your files, baskets, and bins. Your objective? To find any and all receipts, canceled checks, and other papers that support an item of income or deduction. Plus, be on the lookout for important tax forms like W-2s and 1099s in the mail.
Don’t forget about the charitable donations you’ve made over the last year! TurboTax ItsDeductible™ is a free software that tracks and adds your donations year-round and accurately determines the value of your donated items.
(3) X-cessorize: Compliment your tax prep efforts.
I’m not talking shoes and purses here! It’s all about storage. Now that you’ve got each and every one of your tax documents assembled, they must be organized in one central location, so as not to get lost.
There are lots of different tax organizers that can keep your tax papers in order. If you’re not into fancy-schmancy, then you can dress ‘em down with the oldie but goodie manila envelope.
(4) Evaluate: Assess how you want to file your return.
Will you prepare your return personally or will your accountant? Are you eligible for free help at an IRS office or volunteer site? Will you purchase tax prep software or e-file online?
There are many possibilities to consider! Weigh them all and find the option that best suits your needs. These variables may require modifications to your tally and time line. If so, refer back to #1.
(5) Schedule: Make a date to officially file your return.
If you’re doing your own taxes, make an appointment with yourself. If a tax rep is doing your taxes, promptly make an appointment with that individual. In either case, schedule asap – before the calendar fills up – and schedule a date several days ahead of the April 15th filing deadline, just in case a contingency comes up and you need more time to complete the filing process.
Remember: It’s never too early to start tax prep for next year! Looking ahead prevents a last-minute tax crunch and all the pressure that comes with it.
How do you get organized for tax season? I’d love to find out! Please share your thoughts, experiences, ideas, and other comments below.
Carmen Coker is a former US Air Force officer turned professional organizer. Thousands of busy people have benefited from her expertise featured by CBS, NBC, and Real Simple magazine – now it’s your turn! If you want to get organized and calm the chaos in your life, go to CarmenCoker.com for her free video how-to called the Secrets of the Super Organized™.