6 Steps to a Simple Tax Season

6 Steps to a Simple Tax Season

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

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!

3. Get on the Same Page With Your Spouse

Whether you're married, newly divorced or exes, talk to your current or ex-spouse about how you want to do your taxes this year. 

If you're married ... you'll need to decide which filing status to take: married filing jointly or married filing separately. (Look at our flow chart for help.) And if you decide to file jointly, make sure the person doing the taxes (you, your spouse or your accountant) has records and receipts from both of you.

If you got divorced this year ... you still need to sync up with your ex on at least choosing a CPA to prepare your taxes. He can play mediator and make sure that you don't overpay on your taxes or invite an audit because you aren't talking.

If you've been divorced for some time ... you still might want to get your ex on the phone. If you have kids, one of you might be able to claim head of household filing status for more favorable tax treatment. But only one of you can—the one who has the kids for more than half the year. If you both claim head of household, you will definitely get audited.

RELATED: Tax and Divorce: Who Claims Head of Household?

4. Contribute to Your IRA—Now!

The deadline to contribute to your IRA for the 2012 year is April 15, but if you wait until the last minute, you or the institution might make a mistake and dump your money in too late—and there go your tax savings. Wondering whether you should have an IRA? Check out our retirement guide.

5. File Online

Perhaps you have a Montblanc pen you're itching to use, but it's actually much easier and faster to file online. You can use low-cost filing software and never even touch an actual form. Plus, you'll get your refund much faster than if you file on paper. Learn the exceptions to filing online.

6. Sign Up for the Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp

Sad news: Taxes will likely never be simple. (The U.S. tax code is currently 73,954 pages long.) Good news: We wrote an easy-to-read guide that walks you through the process. Updated for tax year 2012, our Ace Your Taxes Bootcamp tells you whether you need an accountant, if you should itemize and how to pay the lowest tax bill legally possible.

See what we're talking about and sign up for free.



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