Preparing for Tax Time

Aargh – the anguish, the adrenaline rush of ‘how bad will it be this year’ is here again. Preparing your income and expenses reports, to either take to a paid tax preparer or do your tax return yourself, is like any other organizing project. Break it down into steps; attack the project in manageable increments. Work an hour or so at a time, even less if you tend to be a bit intimidated by numbers and money. Start now, and save yourself a lot of stress.

Step 1 – If you use a tax preparer, make your appointment. It will give you something to aim for, a ‘drop dead’ date so to speak. You’ll be able to pace yourself in getting ready and if you need to dig up some information, you’ll have a buffer.

If you do your taxes yourself, make a commitment to file your taxes on a certain date. Do a little bit every week if that’s your style, or hit it all at once and be done with it. Do what works for you. From my personal experience, it gets harder, not easier, the longer you delay.

Step 2 – Set up a dedicated location and ‘container’ for both the data you provide and W2s, 1099s, etc. The container can be simple, like a 6 pocket accordion file, if your tax return is straightforward and easy to prepare.

If your taxes are more complex, use a larger accordion file with a handle, or even a portable file box, with labeled hanging files. Last year’s tax return is very helpful; you can use the same categories for deductions, for example. Your tax preparer may have sent you a workbook, use it!

Step 3 – Gather your information: If you have Quicken or other bookkeeping software, print out your report(s) for 2016. If you’re doing the accounting manually, gather checking acct statements, receipts/invoices, receipts for charitable donations, W2s, 1099s, and other documents that support your earnings total. You should have received W2s and 1099s by this point.

Step 4 – Now, turn all those pieces of paper into some totals. You’ll need totals for taxable income, withholding, estimated taxes paid, interests earned, deductible interests and expenses by category. An easy to use calculator, a bookkeeping program like Quicken, or a basic spreadsheet program on your computer are very useful tools. Setting up a table in MS Word and using the ‘Sum’ formula found in the Tables/Layout toolbar is another quick option.

Step 5 – If your taxes are complex every year, (different deductions, interest, sales of investments or real property etc.) take a few minutes and set up folders or another accordion file for 2017. Pop those receipts and statements in as the months roll by, and you won't be scrambling to find them in March 2018.

Bonus! If you have questions for your tax preparer or the IRS, you’ll be able to get your answer early, rather than waiting and sweating that it might be bad news.

And voila! You’ve got the information and the steps to get your tax return done and off your mind.

If you need help, here are a couple organizations that can do your tax returns for you for free:
    AARP supports this program, meant for seniors and especially for low-income seniors. 

    Or you can go to the IRS website
    and click on ‘Help and Resources’. The IRS has a free program for seniors and persons who earn under $54,000 annually.

Due Dates:
Federal Income Tax April 18, 2017

State Income Taxes due dates vary, check through your state tax office.

Please Note, I am not a tax preparer or bookkeeper! 

The above steps are process related only – they are not tax advice.

This post was created by the following NBOC member
  Ruth Hansell of Clutter Demolition