6 Steps to a Simple Tax Season

Alden Wicker
Posted

Tax season is here!

Where did you go? Come out from underneath that desk. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

First of all, the faster you file your taxes, the faster you’ll get your refund. Yup, thought you’d like that. And second, we’re here to make tax season easy(er).

Even if you’re not quite ready to tackle your taxes—you don’t have all the documents, you don’t have the hours this weekend or you haven’t mentally prepared—you can still take some steps today to make this April (and the next) better.

We spoke to LearnVest certified financial planner Samantha Vient, who told us how she advises clients to get ready for a good—OK, doable—tax season.

1. Don’t Lose Anything

You can’t just wing your taxes—the IRS wants exact numbers down to the dollar. But if you have all of your paperwork at hand, you won’t have to. Here’s a short list of what you’ll need:

  • Government confirmation of your return and your refund from last year
  • Records of charitable donations, including receipts
  • Large medical or dental bills
  • Records of business expenses or job-hunting costs
  • Forms from your job showing the income you’ve made (like your W-2)
  • Purchases, sales and improvements to real estate property
  • All actions in your investment and IRA accounts (note that most online brokerages keep these records)

(A full and detailed list can be found in the Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp.)

Folder It

“W-2s and 1099s are coming in, and the likelihood that you could throw that paperwork away if it’s lumped in with your other mail is high,” Samantha says. She suggests getting a large manila folder and labeling it “Taxes 2012,” so you have a designated place to put those documents as they arrive. 

RELATED: Once You’ve Finished Your Taxes, Change Your Withholding

how to do your taxes

Digitize It

Many tax documents are now digital. If you never got documents from your bank or brokerage, you can likely download them straight from the website. You can keep digital track of your receipts with the app Shoeboxed for iPhone and Android. And read our post on how to digitize all of your important documents, organize them and make them searchable—bye, bye, filing cabinet!

Track It

Get yourself set up in the Money Center by connecting your credit cards and bank accounts, and create folders for tax categories like charity and job-hunting expenses. Samantha says this is especially useful for small business owners and freelancers. “Set up a folder just for your business, so when tax season rolls around, you can open that folder and see everything.” And be sure to keep your receipts. In an audit, the IRS would require them as proof.

2. Call Your Accountant—Now!

If you’re getting an accountant this season (take this quiz to find out if you need one), you should give her a call now. Her appointment book is filling up, and you’ll be pushed to the end of her queue by waiting any longer.

RELATED: What to Look for in an Accountant

Plus, it will cost you more. ”Most CPAs are going to charge more for last-minute stuff if you dump it on their desk,” Samantha says. Bonus tip: Your accountant will bill you for fewer hours if you’re organized!