Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_24971632_hanging-file-folder-labeled-with-taxes.html'>zerbor / 123RF Stock Photo</a> 

Organizing tax information, statements and deductions does not have to be stressful or chaotic. Start separating out the information you know you will need to file your taxes this year.   Tax statements and reports from employers, charities, financial institutions and investment brokers have been coming to your mailbox the past few weeks.  If you start organizing now, it will not be as difficult, demanding or stressful to get your filing finished on time!  The following steps will help ease you into the process.

Collect Your Reports & Statements

First, make a folder to hold all of your tax information for 2016, and go ahead and make one for 2017.  At this point, add the new 2017 folder to your other financial files.   The 2017 file will be used to collect receipts and other tax related documents throughout the year.  (This will help you skip this step next year.  Tax preparation and organization is easiest if you prepare all year long). Gather all reports you have received such as W-2s, 1099’s, tuition statements and donation receipts and put them in your 2016 file.  Schedule a time to print off electronic and digital financial reports and bank statements.   If you think you spent over 7.5% of your income on medical expenses, go ahead and collect those receipts too.  Business owners and contractors should schedule time to close their business related books early in the year.

Categorize Your Information

Second, separate all the statements into 2 piles – Income (W-2’s and 1099’s) and Deduction statements (donations, property tax, etc).  By January 31st, you should have received statements and reports from every employer, financial institution, investment firm, and charity you worked with in 2016.

The deductions portion of the collection process can be daunting to some people.  Just remember, this is where your diligence can really pay off by reducing what you owe. Track down your charity receipts for donations of cash, clothing and household goods.  You can also deduct mileage to volunteer jobs, your mortgage interest on primary and secondary homes, property taxes, heavy medical costs, sales tax, tuition, etc.  If you are unsure on whether or not something is deductible, go ahead and include it in the file.  Do not let your indecisiveness slow you down at this point.  You can always ask an accountant about the receipt later, but you will not remember to ask if it is not in the file.

Check Your Information

Double check to make sure you have all the reports, statements and information you need.  A good way to ensure you have received statements from each company is to pull out your 2015 return.  Most people donate to the same charities, live in the same place, keep investments with the same brokers, and work for the same employers from year to year.   So, your previous return is a good tool to use to verify you have received all of your statements.  Ensure you have the social security numbers of all dependents.  If you added a new child to your home in 2016 you will need to get their information.  If you paid someone to watch the kids while you worked, be sure to get their tax identification number.  It will be necessary to provide this information to get the related tax credit.

Gather Your Work at Home Expenses & Receipts

The fourth step is for people who work from home.  If you fall into this category, gather all the information regarding your office and equipment used to do your work.  This includes the square footage of your office, phone bills, internet bills, electric bills, etc.   It will also be helpful for you to gather receipts for computer equipment and office furniture you use for business purposes.

Spending time to get your papers in order now can really pay off in a number of ways. Even if you are dropping off your information with an accountant to prepare your return, getting organized early will benefit both you and the accountant.  It will reduce the stress and panic associated with having to find everything at the last minute. You will be able to determine if you need additional information, and you will have time to find anything missing.  If you prepare the return on your own and you run into a problem, you will be able to ask a professional.  The IRS has many helpful tools and tips on their site at www.irs.gov.  Configuration Connection can help you get your information ready to file.  Call us today for a free consultation.

Sara Genrich is an Organization and Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and the creator of the Organizing @ Work for Success Workshop series.