Get Organized for the IRS by Gathering Your Tax Return Information Early

Just like every other aspect of your life, “doing your taxes” can be vastly improved by a bit of planning and organization. The best time to get organized for the IRS is BEFORE tax documents start landing in your mailbox, or online accounts. Spending 15 minutes the first week of February will save you time when it comes to meeting with your tax preparer, certified public accountant, or sitting down with TurboTax. It will also help avoid potential refund delays or IRS penalties if you end up owing this year. Here are some tried and true tips on getting organized for the IRS.

  • Make a List. Write down a list of all of the tax documents you know you will need to file your tax return, including those receive from employers, clients, health insurance companies, investment brokers, mortgage companies, and the like. Note the source of each document next to it on the list. Does your employer mail W-2s, or post them on an HR website? Will your investment broker send you a paper statement, or an email with a link? Having a list of what you need and where it will come from will ensure you don’t forget something important when you sit down to do your taxes.
  • Create a Capture File. Use a basic file folder, hanging file, or folder with pockets to hold your tax document list and hold paper copies of your important tax documents, including any receipts you may need. Each time a document comes in, put it in the file and cross it off the list. This way you will be able to see immediately anything you are missing when it comes time to file your tax return.
  • Book Early. If you plan to use a third party to complete your tax return and file your taxes, make an appointment to meet with them as soon as you can. It’s okay to make a future appointment before you have received all of your tax documents. Just make sure the appointment is for after you know you will have everything you need. Tax professionals’ calendars fill up early. You don’t want to risk not getting an appointment.
  • Provide Complete Information. Whether you are using an online tax return filing program, a professional tax preparation service, or a CPA, provide complete, accurate information when preparing your tax return. If you’re using software, have everything you need in front of you when you sit down at the computer. If you are using a tax preparation service or a certified public accountant, take your complete capture file with you. Do not leave anything out. Doing so could delay filing of your tax return, delay of your refund if you are eligible, and potentially result in penalties if you owe taxes. Having complete information when you file your return will help ensure it goes through without a hitch.
  • Don’t Embellish. Provide only correct information to the IRS, no matter how you file your tax return. Do not try to save money by claiming tax deductions you do not have documentation for. These include charitable donations of material goods you don’t have a receipt for, use of a personal cellphone for business, or business expenses you don’t have receipts for or that were reimbursed by your employer. The IRS is known for coming back and challenging such deductions. If you don’t have documentation, you could potentially delay your tax refund, receive an IRS notice for more information, or be subject to tax penalties. Being honest is the best way to go.
  • When In Doubt, Ask An Accountant. If your tax return is more complicated than a couple W-2s and a few interest statements, you may need a professional. You should also consult with a tax professional to answer any questions you may have about your taxes. Certified Public Accountants undergo regular training to keep them informed of the latest tax filing laws. They also have access to extensive tax research databases. Doing so will potentially save you headaches in the long run and could potentially save you money as well.

Do you have a great tip for preparing and filing your taxes? Do you know of an Accountant in the local area who excels? Tell me about it in the comments!

Today’s blog is from Cristina M. Miller, Freelance Writer and Editor and Proposal and Grant Specialist. Learn more about her work by visiting

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