Getting organized to file your taxes can remove a lot of the stress involved with meeting the April 15th deadline. Since there's no time like the present, today is the perfect time to start—definitely on this year's taxes if you haven't started already or on your 2011 tax return.
The nine tips below are helpful reminders to make sure you have all the information you need in front of you when it's time to file your taxes.
1. Mark important tax dates on your calendar. While April 15th is the biggest deadline, you also want to make sure you receive any W-2, 1098 or 1099 forms on time as well. All of these should be mailed to you by January 31st, so if you don't receive them soon after, contact the company that is supposed to send them to make sure you have them well in advance of the filing date.
2. Decide on a filing system. Whether you use paper clips, accordion folders, color-coded Post-it notes, or some other system, decide on how you're going to physically group and hold together important paperwork and documents. If you do everything paperless online, that's great, but be sure to keep electronic records organized in folders. Having a physical paper trail can come in handy in case of an audit.
3. Gather all income statements and documents. Group together any and all sources of income, which may include W-2, 1098 or 1099 forms as well as paid invoices or any other evidence of income you have received in the past year.
4. Gather all deductions. Group together documents regarding mortgage interest payments, property taxes, charitable gifts, medical bills, and any other items that may count as deductions.
5. Gather all receipts. If you have deductions that only have accompanying receipts as opposed to a document with the information, keep them separately in a file or folder.
6. Use your filing system. This may sound obvious, but in order for a filing system to be most effective, you actually have to use it all year and not just when tax season comes around.
7. Decide how you're going to file. Be sure to consider different tax statuses if you are eligible for more than one. For example, if you're married and can file either jointly with your spouse or separately, be sure to consider both options. This might be something for you to investigate throughout the year, especially if your circumstances change.
8. Decide the method by which you will file. Will you e-file, use a tax filing software program, hand everything over to an accountant, or just fill out the paperwork by hand yourself? Whichever you decide, make sure you have everything in place for using this method well before the April 15th deadline.
9. Keep up-to-date on tax laws. While it might be a good idea to get expert advice regarding tax law, you should also keep an eye on the news for anything that might affect you or your business. A well-informed client can often help attorneys give the best legal advice, so make sure you know about any changes in tax provisions that could apply to you.