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Get Organized for a Less “Taxing” Tax Season
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By Stephanie Winston

With tax season on its way and W2 statements mailed, it’s time to get your receipts, forms and statements organized. Over the next month, millions of Americans will spend countless hours searching for important documents, scanning old receipts and collecting files needed to calculate their taxes.

To help small business professionals get organized for tax return preparation, I partnered with Office Depot to offer useful tips and an organizational plan, available at www.officedepot.com/getorganized, that will make preparing taxes a little less “taxing.”

Here are a few simple steps to help you save valuable time and minimize frustration when preparing to file taxes:

• Create an Expanding File: At the beginning of each year, make sure to create an accordion file with tabs to store receipts. Label the sections for “W2 and Wage Statements,” “Investments,” “Mortgage,” and so on. Make sure to continue to update these files throughout the year, so you don’t find yourself frantically searching for documents when it comes time to file.

• Organize Online: In this increasingly digital world, it is necessary to organize your electronic files and email to be sure that you aren’t missing any files or receipts that might be important come tax time. Be sure to organize your online files just like your paper files by using my TRAF system: Toss (Delete), Refer (Forward), Act (Reply) and File (Archive).

• Schedule Time For Taxes: Don’t wait until April when the collective panic starts to set in. Make an appointment with yourself or with an accountant by mid-March to get your tax materials organized so you can file on time without an extension. If you opt to file taxes yourself, I recommend that you use specialized software, like TurboTax. This will help you find deductions you might not know about and helps to ensure that you are able to quickly and accurately complete your returns.

• Keep It Together: It’s important to have a single location that holds all tax information. I recommend filing any new paperwork in a single place as soon as you receive it to ensure you can locate it when it’s time to file. If you don’t already have a system in place, create one.

• Record Storage: Even as you begin to file your taxes for this year, you will also need to start collecting and organizing next year’s materials. To avoid confusion, I suggest labeling two sets of accordion folders – utilizing one expanding file folder for the new materials, while keeping records from the preceding year in a separate file. Also, remember to store your records of income and tax-deductible expenses for at least six years after the filing deadline since the IRS can audit within this time period. However, when tossing personal documents and back tax forms, make sure to shred items that include confidential information. I recommend using a diamond-cut shredder such as the Ativa Shredder, which cuts documents into tiny, unusable pieces.

Additional tips and solutions for getting organized and preparing for tax season can be found in the Office Depot Five-Day Office Makeover Plan, which is available at, www.officedepot.com/getorganized.




Stephanie Winston is an author and professional organizer.
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