‘Tis the season to start gathering your tax documents. Yeah, it doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘tis the season to be merry, but it must be done nevertheless. Last week I tried to make a list of all the tax documents I need to gather or expect to receive, but I always worry that I’m forgetting something and will only discover it when I sit down to do my taxes. That’s what I was happy to discover this new tax checklist from H&R Block that helped me figure out what I should expect in the mail and what I need to gather. It was a lot longer than my list.
Filling Out the Checklist
It’s pretty simple. Just check the boxes yes or no. It’s a short list, but it includes items specific to 2009 like the homebuyer tax credit and new car tax deduction as well as the standard income and expense questions.
Once you complete the questionnaire, it provides a complete list of everything you need broken down by category.
Gathering Your Documents
If your taxes are pretty simple, then you might be done after your W-2 arrives. All tax documents must be mailed by January 31, so it may take until February 10 to receive everything. If you haven’t received a document by then, call the company that was supposed to issue it to request a new one. You may also be able to go online and print it out from there, which will save time.
Double-Check the Documents
Don’t wait until you’re doing your taxes to double-check the documents, especially if you’re the type of person who completes your taxes on April 15. Instead, check them as they come in. Compare your W-2 to your last paystub. Compare your mortgage interest statement to your amortization schedule/personal records.
Compile Personal Records
If you’re self-employed, paid tuition, or did charity work, you may not receive an official tax record to rely on, so pull together your receipts and other personal records related to it. If you take the home office deduction, read my previous post to find out which documents you need for that.
Keep Everything Together
Before you compile those taxes, keep everything together. A small folder is easy to keep track of. I use a shoebox, but my shoebox is organized, not just a jumble of random receipts. My business receipts are in an envelope labeled for business receipts. I also photocopy receipts that are printed on thermal paper, because they will fade over time. Once I file my return, I put the shoebox labeled with the year in the closet, and put a hard copy of the return in my metal file box for safekeeping.
Shred Items You Don’t Need
There’s no reason to keep all your old paystubs once you have the W-2. The same goes for credit card statements if you have the actual receipts. Shred whatever you no longer need, preferably in a cross-cut shredder. I keep each shoebox for three years, and then shred the contents. This may take a while – give your shredder a few breaks so you don’t overheat it!
I’ve set aside this weekend and next to gather my personal records and documents, and I’ll slowly be building my stash of other documents until the end of the month. But I’m one of those obnoxious people who files their taxes as soon as possible.