Key papers for income tax should be arriving soon. Now is the time to set up a system to organize those papers. Having papers organized will make the process easier and quicker whether you figure your own taxes or pay a professional to prepare your return. The IRS does not require you to keep your records in a particular way. Choose a system that you will use, and that will support items reported on your tax return.
Southeast Area (Colorado) Extension Agent Kaye Kasza says, "Organizing doesn't have to be a high-tech, months-long project. Buy an accordion folder and use each section to store documents for a different category." An Income section would include W-2 forms from jobs; and Form 1099s for consulting and freelance work. An Expenses or Deductions section would hold expenses from rental properties; property taxes; mortgage interest; business and job expenses; and charitable contributions.
When you're ready to do your tax return, tally up the receipts from each folder section and enter in the correct place in your tax return. Keep a copy of your completed return with the supporting paperwork.
Employers, brokerages, and other companies generally must make available all tax information by Jan. 31; a law passed last year gives brokerages another two weeks to distribute some forms. Follow-up with the company if you don't have the form by mid-February. Give yourself at least two weeks to find missing papers, or research tax questions.
Volunteers in Tax Assistance offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income (generally, $49,000 and below) people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. To locate the nearest VITA site, call 800-906-9887 or check the website www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=107626,00.html.
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