Tax season is under way, and it is time to organize your finances. Starting early allows you to look through paperwork, make sure you have all necessary documentation, and research the deductions and credits for which you may be eligible.
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Preparing well now will make a big difference later, says Howard Rosen, a certified public accountant with Conner Ash in St. Louis.
"If you have used a software package like Quicken to keep your records all year, all you need to do is print out the year-end report, gather your W-2s, 1099s, K-1s, and other documentation as they come, and you are done," he says.
Your tax documents should be mailed to you no later than Jan. 31. As your documentation arrives in the mail, gather and keep it together in one place. A folder or large manila envelope is usually a good choice for keeping these items together.
If you have not received items by the third or fourth week of February, follow up with employers, lenders, brokers, and others who should be sending tax statements.
Rosen says that if you use a professional tax preparer, you likely will be sent a checklist of what you need to bring to your appointment. Follow the checklist.
Rosen suggests some other steps you might consider taking when organizing finances for tax season, including:
- Going through your checkbook looking for potential deductions. These include the gifts you've made to charities, the real estate taxes you've paid, and other such items.
- Following the same process with monthly credit card statements.
- Pulling out last year's tax return. "Compare the items on the return to the items you have gathered," Rosen says. "If you are missing something, you should be able to spot it."
Tax-prep software asks questions about your situation, and can help you identify deductions and credits you might otherwise overlook.
As your finances get more complex, you may want to consider hiring a professional tax preparer. The more paperwork you have from investments, businesses, and other situations, the more you may find it helpful to seek advice from a qualified tax professional.
Finally, once this tax season is over, Rosen suggests setting up a year-round system for managing your taxes.
"Going forward, set up a simple filing system to gather this information as it occurs," he says. "Use a file to keep track of your charitable contributions, real estate tax payments, and more, so you have a big jump on next year."