Archive for ‘Taxes’ Category

Posted on: July 7th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | 3 Comments

Wait, it was just Independence Day! Why are we talking about back-to-school organizing? In ye olden days, when I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where kids still don’t go back to school until after Labor Day, talking about back-to-school so soon after the 4th of July would be like stores putting up Christmas decorations right after Halloween. (Oh…right.)

But there’s a method to the madness. In many parts of the country, students go back to school in the middle of the summer. In my county in Tennessee, the public schools start on August 3rd, and mere miles from me in Georgia, students go back on the first of August. But even for kids going back to school in September, that’s only about eight weeks from now. Instead of rushing to get everything done, here’s a roundup of ways to organize your approach to the back-to-school season.

ORGANIZE YOUR ADHD STUDENT – FREE WEBINAR

Paper Doll‘s colleagues (and longtime friends), Michelle Cooper and Michelle Grey of Student Organizers of Atlanta will be presenting a free, live webinar entitled Practical Organization and Time Management Strategies for Middle and High Schoolers with ADHD on July 20, 2017, at 1 p.m. ET.

Presented as part of ADDitude Magazine‘s ongoing webinar series, the webinar will provide strategies for:

  • Managing the day-to-day organizational challenges facing students both inside and outside of the classroom
  • Understanding your child’s “thinking style” and finding organizing methods and tools that fit his or her style
  • Using organizational systems that will improve his or her chances of academic success
  • Collaborating with your child and the teachers to support his or her efforts at organization
  • Using products, books, and websites to ease the process of organization for your student

Register for the webinar and take it live, or you can use the replay link to watch (or rewatch) the webinar for free, any time up through next January 20, 2018.

Learn more about ADDitude and check out the other webinars in the series. If your child is heading to college, both of you might want to watch the webinar on July 11, 2017, entitled The College Transition Guide for Teens with ADHD.

ORGANIZE YOUR FINANCES – TAX-FREE HOLIDAYS

Over the four weekends from July 21 through August 13, sixteen states will be having tax-free holiday weekends. In general, these states allow retailers to sell clothing and footwear, school supplies, computers, and sometimes backpacks, books, and other “tangible personal property” without charging sales tax. In my state, that’s a savings of 9.25%. Combine that with various 10%-25%-off sales, and that’s a great opportunity to stock up on necessities.

Note: Some states, such as Georgia, have discontinued their tax-free holidays, so be sure to check out states adjacent to yours.

Click on the name of your nearest state to be directed to that state’s official tax-free holiday page.

Alabama (July 21-23, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing (up to $100), Computers (up to $750), School supplies (up to $50), Books (up to $30)

Arkansas (August 5-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing and footwear (up to $100), Clothing accessories and equipment (up to $50), School and academic art supplies (no dollar limit)

Connecticut (August 20-26, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing and footwear (up to $100)

Florida (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing, footwear, wallets, and bags (up to $60), School supplies (up to $15/item), Computers (up to $750)

Iowa (August 4-5, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing and footwear (up to $100)

Louisiana (August 4-5, 2017)
Tax-free: Tangible Personal Property (3% tax rate up to $2,500; a 2% state sales tax exemption applies, so qualified purchases are subject to only 3% state sales tax)

Maryland (August 13-19, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing & footwear (up to $100)

Mississippi (July 28-29, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing & footwear (up to $100)

Missouri (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing (up to $100), Computers/peripherals (up to $1,500), Software (up to $350), Graphing calculators (up to $150), School supplies (up to $50)

New Mexico (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing and footwear (up to $100), Computers, tablets, and e-readers (up to $1,000), Computer equipment (up to $500), Book bags and backpacks (up to $100 per item), maps and globes (up to $100 per item), Calculators (up to $200), School supplies (up to $30)

Ohio (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing (up to $75), School supplies (up to $20)

Oklahoma  (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing and footwear (up to $100)

South Carolina (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing (no limit) School supplies (no limit), Computers, printers, peripherals, and software (no limit)

Tennessee (July 28-30, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing (up to $100), School and art supplies (up to $100), Computers (up to $1,500)

Texas (August 11-13, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing, backpacks and school supplies (up to $100)

Virginia (August 4-6, 2017)
Tax-free: Clothing (up to $100), School supplies (up to $20), Energy Star products (up to $2,500) and a variety of hurricane-preparedness items.

Tax-free holiday tips:

  • The price limits generally refer to the price-per-item cost, not your entire purchase. However, if a store is placing limits on entire purchases and you have a large family, you might want to have your older, more responsible children stand in line and pay with cash.
  • Make a list of what each child needs before you get to the store. (Check with your school to see if a grade-appropriate list has been posted online.) It’s tempting to buy anything that seems like a bargain, but acquiring what you don’t need just because it’s a “deal” is the fast track to clutter.
  • Set a budget for each shopping category.
  • Shopping with smaller children will stress you (and your kids) out, so consider trading shopping and babysitting time with a friend or split babysitter costs while you and your friend hunt for bargains together. Let older children participate – use it as an opportunity to practice math skills (“How much is this shirt if it’s marked as 15% off?”) and encourage them in finding good deals on high-quality products. The more responsible they are, consider rewarding them with the amount by which they came in under budget to apply toward something fun.
  • Remember to keep your receipts in case you find that you need to return something; note each retailer’s return policy.

ORGANIZE YOUR STUDENT’S SCHEDULE – A NEW KIND OF PLANNER

As mentioned a few weeks back when I was talking about Time Timer, many people, especially students, can have trouble mastering the concept of the passing of time, which makes it difficult to properly plan academic and life tasks. When I was in middle and high school, almost nobody used a planner or a calendar. These were the days when Trapper Keepers were the height of organizational technology and pocket-sized assignment notebooks yielded the best option for academic time management. Somewhere during the <mumble mumble> intervening decades, schools started providing and/or requiring student planners to help keep up with homework assignments, projects, and tests.

These planners give students the opportunity to mark down what they must do. It’s not clear, however, that students get the time management skills and system-training they need to master the intricacies of juggling academics, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, and familial obligations, or learn when to complete it all. That’s where Leslie Josel comes in.

Professional organizer Leslie Josel of Order Out of Chaos, is not just a colleague and friend; she’s also a fellow Cornell University alum, so when I first heard about her product line for students, I paid particular attention.

Paper Doll with Leslie Josel, © 2017 Best Results Organizing

At first, Leslie’s organizing practice concentrated on working with chronically disorganized clients, people with ADHD, students with learning challenges, and clients with hoarding behaviors. Eventually, (like Michelle and Michelle, above), she expanded her offerings to include coaching services for both students and parents. In 2016, Leslie expanded her company’s product division and officially launched Products Designed With Students in Mind.

Leslie’s big idea was the Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management®. The 2017-2018 Academic Planner comes in two sizes: letter-sized (8 1/2″ x 11″) and personal-sized (8 1/4″ x 8 1/2″), both for $18.99. Based on an academic year calendar, the planners run July through June. They’re spiral bound, but also three-hole punched to allow students to pop them right into their binders.

Each size is available in four styles of planners: Jamie (black), Riley (orange/blue), Taylor (white) and Paper Doll‘s personal favorite, Violet (pink/purple). The interior pages measure 7” x 11”, offering up more than the typical space for writing down assignments and activities.

Introductory Pages

The front pages, measuring the same size as the front and rear cover of the planner, include:

  • a contact information section so a lost planner can be easily returned
  • a class schedule (subject, period, instructor, room #, days) to quickly acclimate students for the new year (and give a fellow student, armed with the contact info, an easy way to find the owner at the right classroom and return a lost planner)
  • a Welcome Letter from Leslie to parents
  • a detailed set of Planner Pointers, providing excellent guiding tips for making smart use of the planner. (My favorite? Writing “No Homework” if none was assigned so the student never has to wonder if he or she just forgot to write something down.)
  • a two-page Planner Use Guide, showing the planner in action — noting assignments, reminders (“Get permission slips signed!”), after-school activities and previews for the next week
  • Homework Helpers, tips that could only come from a professional organizer experienced with helping students gain control of their work.
  • a sample Project Planning Guide to help plan long-term assignments (Students can download more guides for future projects.)
  • a two-page School Year at a Glance

Planner Pages

On the last (extra-sturdy) full-sized front page, the Academic Planner has a vertical index page that peeks out from behind (and to the left) of the actual planner pages. This index page means that students record their class subjects (in up to 7 subject boxes) only once. Then everything on the upper calendar sections of the planner pages lines up with the appropriate class subjects, course by course, horizontally (with days of the week arrayed, vertically) across a two-page layout. (You can download a sample planner page.)

The next row (in the personal-sized planner, only) is for To Do items.

Below that, there’s an hour-by-hour schedule from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Typical student planners only cover the academic day and don’t take into account post-school activities, like doctor’s appointments, tutoring, clubs, rehearsals, sports, and jobs. This planner provides oodles of space for all of those activities and recognizing conflicts (just like in the best calendar planners for adults). This really helps students see the forest and the trees of weekly time management.

Other Features

  • At the start of each month, there’s a left-side full-page monthly calendar with space to note major events, holidays, and vacations, and adequately plan longer-term projects.
  • The right-side Notes page facing the calendar offers up ample room for planning, notes, and the kinds of serious thoughts only people between 12 and 18 can understand.
  • There’s a clear poly pocket at the rear of the planner for safely keeping notes, permission slips, and other documents too small for a student’s binder.
  • A bonus Academic Planner Accessories Pack (sold separately, for $8.97) includes a plastic page marker that clips into the spiral binding, so it’s easy to find the current week in the planner, a set of monthly tabs, and a really bright, sunny set of useful stickers.

But of course, measurements, styles, and features don’t give credit to what the 2017-2018 Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management® can actually do to help students. For that, let’s go to the video!

Enjoy your summer, but remember that a little organizing now can make back-to-school the most wonderful time of the year!

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, and I may get a small remuneration (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking through to the resulting pages. The opinions, as always, are my own. (Seriously, who else would claim them?)

Posted on: April 17th, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

Americans had a few extra days to file their taxes this year. The usual April 15th deadline that so many of us dread fell on a Saturday. Normally, the deadline would be pushed to the following Monday, but because April 17th is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in Washington, DC, tax returns were granted another reprieve, until April 18th.

But what about a reprieve from all of the paper clutter that results from preparing your taxes? Have you completed your federal and state (and perhaps local/municipal) returns only to find that you are being crowded out of your workspace by a mountainous “to shred” pile?

Tax time is the perfect opportunity to clear out your file folders, your desk drawers, your purses, wallets and pockets, and to shred all those random receipts and documents that you don’t need to support your tax returns. Why? To protect your identity!

Of course, if you don’t know what you need to keep vs. what you should shred, Paper Doll has you covered with Do I Have To Keep This Piece of Paper?

DO-IT-YOURSELF

Shredding isn’t difficult, but it’s also not much fun.

OK, it’s not much fun for most people, Weird Al aside. But it can be made convenient.

In most cases, consistent use of a medium-sized shredder for your home office or small business should suffice to keep the backlog at bay and keep your papers from piling up in between tax seasons. If you don’t yet have a shredder or are in the market for a new one, some of the basic things to consider are:

  • Capacity — There are three key criteria:

1) How many sheets of paper can you feed at one time? While shredders are generally rated by the number of sheets shredded simultaneously, Paper Doll believes many manufacturers are a bit too optimistic in self-reporting. Aim for the highest capacity shredder in your budget range.

2) How much paper can you load in any session without the motor pooping out on you? This won’t generally be listed on the box, so take some time to read user reviews at Amazon and ConsumerSearch.

3) What else can you shred besides paper? While not everyone will have a need to destroy CDs/DVDs, the shredder you select should, at the very least, be able to handle stapled paper and expired credit cards.

  • Ease of Use — The main concerns are an adequate-width feeder and an easy-to-empty receptacle or bin. The nicest shredders have a removable bin that slides out like a drawer or tips out like a laundry chute, but these tend to be more expensive than the budget versions, where the shredding mechanism lifts off to reveal a metal or rubber receptacle. Avoid the low-rent shredders that only provide a mechanism to set atop a trash can — these are usually ill-fitting, poorly balanced and lead to a flurry of shreds on your carpet, which furry animals and tiny humans will spread far and wide.
  • Features — Any decent shredder should have an auto-start function, such that as long as your shredder is turned on, you should be able to insert documents to shred. A “forward” function keeps the motor running whether you are shredding or not. The “reverse” function is important for helping you clear paper jams quickly, especially when you feel immediate friction and realize you’re trying to shred too much paper at once.
  • Aesthetics — While the design of a shredder shouldn’t be your main concern, an overly noisy or ugly shredder may be a deal breaker. Whenever possible, test a friend’s shredder or ask a sales associate to help you test a floor model. The noise a shredder makes isn’t exactly pleasant, but some have more vibration or grinding than others.
  • Shred Size and Shape — You want a cross-cut or micro-cut shredder. The rare old-style strip-cut shredders offer less protection against prying eyes. Cross-cut shredders reduce your paper to squiggles. Micro-cut shredders pulverize papers even more finely, but may be overkill (in terms of both function and cost) for personal use.
  • Shredder Size — There’s no polite way to say this: size matters. Clients purchase desktop mini-shredders in hopes that the small size and convenience of easier access will make them more inclined to routinely shred junk mail. However, I find most desktop shredders lack the gravitas needed to handle daily work. The feeders tend to be too small for ease of usability — usually about 5″ wide, while typical mail is 8 1/2″ wide. Even smaller paper generally has to be folded in order to fit into desktop feeders. Perhaps Paper Doll is spoiled, but the ability to shred a short stack of paper without having to fold or spindle in order to mutilate is essential. Mini-shredders are not designed for power-shredding, but even applying relaxed standards, they still tend to overheat quickly, either from lumpy paper gumming up the works or over-exhaustion. A mini-shredder is a lot like an Easy-Bake® Oven. Yes, it can do what it promises, but would you cook Thanksgiving dinner without a full-sized oven?

SHREDDING SERVICES

You know how important it is to shred the paper that you no longer need for tax, legal or proof-of-ownership purposes, because merely tossing them in the trash could make you ripe for identity theft. But you also know that once your shred pile is as tall as the youngest of your tax-deductible dependents, your personal shredder is going to wimp out before you get through everything.

Of course, you may not have the time, space, or shredding firepower to shred your own documents. If that’s the case, there are a wide variety of companies that offer document destruction services nationwide, including Shred-It, Iron Mountain, Shred Nations, and Pro-Shred. If you need help finding shredding services in your areas, you can turn to the National Association for Information Destruction. The NAID’s interactive map will locate shredding companies nearest to you. Just type in your geographic location (or keep clicking the plus sign to get a close-up of your area.)

In addition to shredding specialists, you can pay to have your paper shred retail locations like FedEx Office, the UPS Store, Staples, and Office Depot/Office Max. Prices range from 99 cents per pound, upward.

Office Depot/Office Max is offering a coupon for up to 5 pounds of free document shredding from now through April 29, 2017.

This photo is just a facsimile. So, click on the above link, print it out, clip it, gather up your shredding and get that pile of paper clutter out of your office (or off your kitchen table).

Staples also has a coupon — for 2 pounds of free shredding with code 23733. You’ll have to click the link to locate the coupon on the resulting page and print it or send it to your mobile device.. Please note that this coupon expires April 22, 2017.

FREE SHREDDING OPTIONS

Various universities, government agencies, and community groups partner with shredding companies throughout the year for events billed as shred-a-thons and shred days. Be sure to Google one of these terms and your city or town name to find events near you. Many are held in mid-to-late April, so don’t delay.

See? It doesn’t have to be so taxing, after all. Declutter, protect your identity, and save money!

Posted on: January 27th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

For most people, anticipating tax time falls on a continuum from vague annoyance to full-blown anxiety. Getting organized isn’t a panacea against all that causes us stress, but it can inoculate us against the worst of it. (As Paper Doll always says, organizing can’t prevent catastrophes, but it can help make them less catastrophic.)

In our last two posts, we’ve looked at the basics for getting started organizing for tax time (including making use of the IRS’s new Get Transcript service), and we’ve tried to make some sense out of W-2s and the myriad 1099s and 1098s that organizations and institutions are obligated to provide you.

But what about other documents, the kinds that don’t come on forms? Most will be proof of deductible financial transactions. While some may be provided directly to you at the time (like receipts for deductible expenses), others may be sent as part of correspondence. And, of course, other types of proof will require you do some hunting and gathering.

There are a few main categories to consider.

YOUR HEALTH

You could (and probably should) maintain a folder with the receipts and annotated (paid) statements for all of your family’s out-of-pocket doctor’s visits and other medical care. At the end of the year, flipping through this folder allows you to summarize your medical expenses and determine if you’ve met the IRS threshold for deducting them. If you use a financial dashboard like Mint and are faithful about making sure expenses are assigned to the right categories, you may not have to do any math at all.

For reference, effective this year, you may only deduct medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. (If you are 65 or older, the old 7.5% applies until 2017.)

If you have health insurance coverage, your company probably creates an annual summary indicating how much health care you’ve used and the amount you paid/owed to medical providers during the course of the year. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield calls theirs a personal health statement.

BCBSSummaryScreen_1

The trick is that most people have no idea that their insurance companies create these summaries, as they tend not to be mailed to policy holders. Insurers save mailing costs and hope you’ll know to log into your online account to search for your summary. (If your medical expenses for the prior year are too low to qualify to be deductible, just save a PDF of your summary for your records; don’t bother printing.)

If your insurance company doesn’t create annual summaries, you can usually use the “You Owe” column of the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that your insurer sends after doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and procedures (and you should definitely be able to log in or call to request copies of these, if you’ve discarded them). If your medical expenses are low, no further effort is needed, but if it looks like you’ll be able to take deductions, using your annual summary or EOBs will give you a handle on which receipts or dated statements you’re seeking for tax support.

In the future, try to be vigilant about saving medical expense receipts, as your EOBs and insurance company summaries are not considered proof of what you spent on deductible medical expenses, only indications of what you owed to medical providers. Collect receipts for:

Medical care expenses: Be sure to only count expenses for which you paid and not portions paid by the insurance company or “network savings.”  (That’s the amount knocked off the bill simply because you have insurance. If you were uninsured, you’d be charged more than the total paid by you and the insurance company!)

Pharmaceutical expenses: Call or visit your pharmacy to request a printout of all pharmaceutical purchases you made for yourself and your children during the prior tax year. (Because of privacy laws, your spouse may have to make a separate request.) Using only one pharmacy for prescriptions is advantageous.

Health Savings Account documentation: For every qualified medical expense you pay through your health savings account (HSA) or medical savings account (MSA), keep a record of the name and address of each person or company you paid and the amount and date of the payment. Since HSAs can be used to cover everything from orthodontia and acupuncture to durable medical equipment and contact lens solution, be sure to save your receipts, and if a receipt doesn’t clearly describe what you actually purchased, make a note at the top to ease your efforts at tax time.

Medically-necessary travel expenses: If you (or a family member) have conditions that require travel for treatment, you can deduct the travel costs. Keep a paper or digital log of the miles driven and use the current IRS standard mileage rate for medical purposes for 2013 (or 2014).

YOUR HOME

Home purchases: Maintain records regarding the purchase (or sales) documentation for a house, as well as records for closing costs, home inspections, fees paid to real estate agents and any records regarding private mortgage insurance.

Surrey

Casualty and theft losses require documentation. For thefts, you’ll need to have proof of ownership (that’s why we recommend saving “big ticket” item receipts and videoing a household inventory), proof of theft (usually via a police report) and the date that the item was stolen (to proove it falls in the appropriate tax year).

For proof of loss due to casualty, maintain insurance company confirmation letters regarding the date and cause (ice storm, lightning, fire, auto accident, etc.) of a loss, estimates of original costs and costs of repair/replacement vs. what your insurance company will or will not pay (or has paid), and proof of ownership.

Moving expenses relate to actual costs (movers, truck rental, storage, etc.) and mileage. Did you move more than 50 miles in order to work at a new job/location? Check out IRS Publication 521 regarding what you’ll have to document.

Other home-related paperwork to save include:

  • Receipts and records regarding any home improvement efforts you’ve made which materially increase the value of your home (which will have a tax implication when you sell).
  • Records of purchases for your primary residence that qualify you for the Energy Star tax credits for the applicable year. This gives you credit for 10-30% of costs for energy-efficient purchases, including biomass stoves, various heating/air conditioning devices, insulation, water heaters and windows and doors, geothermal heat pumps, residential small wind turbines, and more.

YOUR HEART

Childcare/Eldercare costs: To take advantage of the Child and Dependent Care Credit, you’ll need documentation of the name, address, and Tax ID number for any care provider you’ve used for your kids or other dependents. Whether you’re using a babysitter from down the street or employing the services of a daycare facility (for either children or adults), use federal form W-10, Dependent Care Provider’s Identification and Certification.

Even if you’re not planning to run for elected office, be sure you’re not running afoul of Nanny Tax rules regarding FICA (Social Security and Medicare) and FUTA (unemployment insurance). Use a Nanny Tax calculator and keep careful records of what you paid, when, what you withheld and what you submitted to the IRS.

Charitable donations: You may get a nice form letter on a non-profit’s stationery, or they may bury your acknowledgment as tiny text in asterisked comments at the bottom of requests for further donations, so be diligent about opening your mail. A charitable contribution confirmation should include the name of the qualifying charitable organization, a date of donation or at least the date of the acknowledgment (i.e., something to prove the tax year of the donation) and a dollar amount (or a description of materials if an “in-kind” (non-monetary) donation was made).

Not every charity confirms donations in writing. For your protection, keep your own records regarding donations  you make. Use the charitable request letter or even a plain piece of paper to mark the date, dollar amount and method by which you paid (check number or credit card name), and file it away. Again, if you use a financial dashboard, identifying all of your donation amounts will be easier. If not, read through your credit card statements and highlight the charitable donations. 

YOUR HEAD

Educational expenses: Higher learning can be deducted and the number and type of credits (the Hope Credit, Lifetime Learning Credit, American Opportunity Credit), Savings Bond programs and more can be dizzying. Just be sure that in addition to keeping your 1099-T (for tuition) and 1099-E (for educational interest), maintain transcripts that show your periods of academic enrollment, as well as canceled checks, credit card statements or other receipts that verify the dates of payment and amounts you spent on tuition, books, lab materials, student fees, etc.

animal_house_college_sweatshirt

Work-related costs: Un-reimbursed employee expenses may include costs for your vehicle or for travel, meals, entertainment or even client gifts. Unfortunately, you have to itemize and not take the Standard Deduction for these to do you any good, and your combined itemized expenses must exceed 2.5% or more of your AGI. Since you have no way of knowing in January what kinds of expenses your employer might force you to rack up in July, start maintaining a folder for these records right away. If you didn’t save receipts during the year, your credit card should provide proof for the largest of the expenses, like airfare and hotel costs.

Proof of payment for jury duty: Yes, it’s your civic duty, and yes, you probably got paid less per day than what you spent at Starbucks to stay awake in the jury box. You might receive a 1099 if you racked up enough days of service, but be sure to keep your own records regarding this kind of payment. If your employers required you to turn your jury duty payments over them, keep records so you can request an adjustment to reduce your AGI.

Tips: If you work in the food industry or a personal service profession where you receive tips, the IRS expects you to keep track of and report what you’ve made. (Yes. Really.) Use a mobile app like TipCounter or Tip Log to record of the tips you took in and what you were required to “tip out” to other support staff members (like bus boys, shampooers, etc.). If you prefer paper, keep a notebook; the IRS form 4070A is pretty clunky.

Self-employed/small business expenses: If you own your own business, you need a unique, separate filing system for all your business-related expenses, including tax paperwork. Check the classic Paper Doll post Organizing Your Tax Paperwork–Part 3: Get Your Business (Receipts) Off The Ground to make sure you capture all the essentials.

I hope this series of Taxing Conversations helps you ramp up your efforts to organize for tax time. Remember, Paper Doll is a professional organizer; in the language of the web, IANAA (I am not an accountant) and IANYA (I am not your accountant). For individual tax-related questions, please contact an authorized tax preparation specialist or financial planner.

Posted on: January 24th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

Last time, we talked about simple steps for organizing the paperwork for your taxes. As Paper Doll mentioned, it all begins with gathering the right documents. Every taxpayer’s situation is different, but we’ll review the most common items you should be seeking and collecting in your Tax Prep folder.

Today, we’ll review the tax support documents called information returns. These are sent to you from outside entities and the law requires them to be provided, generally by January 31st, so they should require the least amount of effort on your part.

W-2-2013

W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement)

If you’ve ever had a job, you’ve probably received a W-2. Not to be confused with a Federal W-4 (the form you fill out so that your employer knows how much tax to withhold), the W-2 is the form your employer gives you (and sends to the IRS) to report how much you were paid (in wages, salaries and tips) and, if applicable, how much money was withheld from you and paid to  federal and/or state governments for taxes and FICA (Social Security and Medicare).

Federal, state and local taxes, FICA, unemployment insurance and a few other withholdings are considered statutory payroll tax deductions. Statutes, or laws, require them. Wage garnishments for lawsuits or child support may be the result of non-statutory legal rulings specific to an individual. Your W-2 may also indicate other amounts withheld from your check, which are voluntary payroll deductions. These can include health and life insurance premiums, 401(k) or other retirement contributions, regular donations to the United Way, union dues, etc.

There are generally multiple copies of the same Form W-2. Your employers submit copy A directly to the Social Security Administration and keep copy D for their records. Copies B and C are for you — you send one to the IRS with your federal tax return and keep one for your own records. And, just to make sure you’re paying attention, copies 1 and 2 are provided to file with any applicable state or local tax authorities. (Don’t ask why they aren’t copies E and F. Paper Doll suspects it’s just to perturb her.)

Employers should mail W-2s by the last day of January, so if you haven’t received yours by Valentine’s Day, contact Human Resources (or, y’know, Madge, with the beehive hairdo, down the hall, as applicable). W-2s are usually mailed to the address listed on your W-4, though small businesses may just hand them to employees. Consider a few issues:

  • Did you change employers recently? If you had more than one job this year, be sure that you have received W-2s from each employer. If you changed jobs at the same company, you’ll generally only receive one W-2 from each employer, not one per position.
  • Did you change addresses since you filled out your W-4? There’s only so much a former employer will do to track you down and give you your W-2. Keep the boss updated!

Just because you don’t have your W-2 doesn’t mean the IRS didn’t get its Copy A. The IRS knows what you made, so be sure you do, too! (If your employer is no longer in business or is otherwise not responsible to your requests, the IRS has a procedure to allow you to file your taxes  in the absence of a W-2.)

When you receive your W-2, examine it carefully. Do the numbers seem right? If possible, compare them to the final pay stub you got for last year. Because the calendar year ended mid-week (and therefore, mid-pay period for most people), the numbers won’t correspond exactly, but they’ll be close enough for you to spot if something is seriously wrong. The sooner you call your employer’s attention to an error, the sooner you can prepare your return. (And again, that’s a good thing!)

W-2G is a cousin of the W-2. If you go to a casino and win more than $600 in any gambling session (congrats, by the way!), the “house” will request your Tax ID and either prepare a W-2G on the spot, or send it to you in January of the following year. Note: the IRS knows about your winnings, but not about your losses. To deduct  losses, the IRS requires you to be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements or other records that show the amount of both your winnings and losses.

1099

A 1099 is a form that basically says, “hey, we paid you some money for something other than being an employee.” You get a copy; the IRS gets a copy.

There’s not just one type of 1099; actually, there are a whole variety of 1099s.  Some of the more common are:

1099-INT

Got a bank account? This form reflects the interest income you receive from interest-bearing savings and checking accounts, money market bank accounts, certificates of deposit, and other accounts that pay interest. It also notes whether foreign or U.S. taxes were withheld and if there were any penalties assigned for early withdrawal from an interest-bearing account. Internet-only banks, like CapitalOne360, require you to log into your account to get your 1099-INT, so don’t count on it coming by mail.

1099-DIV

Do you own stock or taxable investments? This form indicates the dividends or capital gains you received as an investor. Your broker, plan services company, mutual fund company or other type of investment company will send this form. Not all dividends are created equally; ask your tax professional if you have any that seem unusual or complicated.

1099-MISC 

This is what you may receive from a client or customer if you were an independent contractor (i.e., self-employed) or if you got any kind of miscellaneous revenue for doing work for someone else when you were not actually considered an employee. Even if someone paid you for doing work as an independent contractor, they may not know they should be sending you a 1099-MISC. This is why, if you are self-employed or irregularly employed, it’s still vital to keep track of your incoming revenue.

Your 1099s may be hiding in plain sight. Sometimes, instead of sending a 1099 in a separate envelope, a bank or brokerage house may include a 1099 form in the same envelope as (or even perforated, at the bottom of) a quarterly or end-of-year financial statement, so be sure to check all the “official” mail that arrives. Multiple forms may be sent as a “combined 1099,” scrolling across multiple pages, so check the reverse of other forms, in case you seem to be missing one.

A 1099 doesn’t always indicate that you were literally paid money. For example, a 1099-C indicates that a party has forgiven a debt, like a mortgage or part of a credit card balance. You may owe money on forgiven debts, and the 1099-C alerts the IRS that since you didn’t pay money owed, it’s as if you received money.

The IRS maintains a list of other types of 1099s and 1099-related forms.

1098 (Mortgage Interest Statement)

A 1098 is not a 1099 with low-self-esteem. This form reflects the interest you paid on your mortgage, which is generally deductible on your federal taxes. If you rent, you won’t have a 1098; the same goes if you paid off your mortgage prior to the most recent tax year.

There are sub-types of 1098s for things other than interest on property loans. For example, you might receive a 1098-C from a charitable organization if you donated car, boat or airplane. (Paper Doll suspects that if you donated an airplane, you probably tripped over my blog post on your way to Happy Millionaire Magazine.) Your college might provide you with a 1098-T to indicate you paid tuition, or a financial institution might send a 1098-E to show you’ve paid student loan interest.

Chance are good that you will receive a W-2, 1099 and/or 1098 in any given year, but there are many other less common information return forms. This lengthy list and description of all tax-related forms can help you if you receive something mysterious and vaguely official in your mailbox.

Again, these are the forms that others are required to send to you. Next time, we’ll finish up by exploring other kinds of paperwork that you may need to locate and organize to prepare your taxes, primarily documents that may take a little nagging or detective work on your part.

Posted on: January 22nd, 2014 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

The other day, I asked a potential client how well she thought her family was doing on keeping up with tax paperwork. She mentioned that they have a “tax drawer” where they collect everything related to taxes. Perhaps she thought I’d be judgmental, but I think she and her family are head and shoulders above where most American taxpayers are at this point in the year.

090126_IRS_1040_taxes

If tax time has given you a headache in the past, Paper Doll has some suggestions for obtaining, sorting and maintaining the forms and supporting material you (or your accountant) will need by April 15th.

The basics of getting ready for tax time aren’t that scary. Five simple steps should get you on your way.

1) Create a folder called Tax Prep 2013. Yes, 2013. In any given year, you’re preparing tax returns for the prior fiscal year.

While you’re at it, you may as well create your folder for Tax Prep 2014, so you’ll have it handy throughout the coming year. For many of my residential organizing clients, we create a hanging folder for tax prep with a variety of tabbed folders for the subset of paperwork that comes into the home throughout the year: Charity (donation receipts), Medical Expenses (sometimes divided into separate folders for prescriptions and doctor visits), Educational Expenses and more. However, if you’ve made it to 2014 without a system for tackling 2013’s receipts, one nicely labeled folder is a great start.

Although Paper Doll prefers tabbed folders because they store easily with the rest of your family filing system, you might like to consider something like the Smead Tax Organizer to corral your documents.

SmeadTaxOrganizer

The faster you locate the essential documents, the sooner you can complete your return and earn one of two prizes, either a tax refund or more time to figure out how to come up with the funds to pay your taxes. 

2) Watch your mailbox. Most financial institutions still send tax forms through the mail. If you’re not in the habit of opening your mail as soon as it arrives, January is the perfect time to start a new, good habit. Financial institutions have a nasty habit of hiding 1099s (of which, more next time) at the bottom of long annual statements or as enclosures with fourth quarter statements — so again, read your mail.

3) Watch your email inbox. No, you probably won’t receive tax documents via email, as it’s not secure. Financial institutions make a lot of security-related mistakes, but that’s not generally one of them. However, you will likely receive email notifications that you can log in to your online accounts at banks, brokerage houses, etc., to download and/or print your tax forms.

Caveat: this is also the time of year when phishers are trying to get their hands on your Social Security number and other vital information. Do not click on links embedded in emails to get to your online financial accounts. Type the URLs yourself, and make sure that https:// appears in the URL box so you know you’re gaining secure access.

4) Review your prior year’s tax return and supporting materials. (Hopefully, you’ve got them collated in a folder somewhere.) Make a quick list of all the forms and documents you used when preparing a previous year’s taxes. When January’s over, compare the list with what you have in your folder to see what forms might be missing or what recurring donations you might have made but forgotten. This year may not be identical to last year — you may have given to different charities, sold stock or closed an old savings account. But knowing which documents you received previously will help you eyeball the situation and recall changing circumstances.

5) Let the Taxman help. There are a few reasons you might be missing your old tax paperwork. Maybe you prepared your taxes online and had only a few forms and just tossed them in a drawer. Perhaps your paperwork is still in storage because you moved during the year. Or it’s possible that organizing your paperwork hasn’t been your major priority. Happily, getting your old tax returns has never been easier.

In the olden days (that is, before last week), if you wanted copies of your taxes, you had to either trundle down to your local Internal Revenue Service office, fill out forms, and wait in line, or you had to submit forms by mail and wait about ten business days for your forms to arrive by mail. Paper Doll suspects you neither want to cool your heels at the IRS office or have your tax documents slowly wing their way to you. (Oddly, we tend to worry less about mailing our financial information to the IRS than having them send it back to us.)

The good news is that effective immediately, the IRS has created Get Transcript, a real-time online tax transcript request service. (“Transcript” is the fancy term the IRS uses to refer to digital of old tax returns.) For what it’s worth, Get Transcript isn’t merely useful for preparing your taxes. When you apply for mortgages, small business loans, and student loans, presenting an IRS transcript is usually a quick shortcut for helping you validate your income and tax filing status.

GetTranscript

Create a Get Transcript account with your name and email address. You’ll be emailed a confirmation code; once you enter it into the system (which you need to do within thirty minutes of receipt, so don’t dawdle), you’ll provide a variety of identity verification information and then set up a secure profile. Expect this part to take 5-10 minutes — but you’ll only have to do this once.

Get Transcript allows you to get your actual tax transcript (a copy of your original return) or an account transcript (which shows amendments or changes made by you, your tax preparer or the IRS). If you want a document that shows a combination of your original return and supporting information as well as the revisions, you must request a record of account transcript.

Select the type of transcript, year, and the reason you’re requesting it (e.g., mortgage, student loan, immigration, housing assistance, etc.). Your transcript will display on the screen. Save it as a PDF so that you can maintain a digital record on your computer or in the cloud. Don’t forget to sign out of your IRS account when you’re done.

Next time, we’ll review all of those official letters-and-numbers forms that can make tax preparation so stressful, and we’ll follow up with the supporting materials that you may need to collect on your own.

Taking just fifteen minutes to organize today will help make tax time much less stressful. Why not get started now? Dig through your “tax drawer,” climb into your mailbox, and start gathering the essentials.