Keeping Good Records Reduces Stress at Tax Time

From the IRS….

You may not be thinking about your tax return right now, but summer is a great time to start planning for next year and to make sure your records are organized.  Maintaining good records now can make filing your return a lot easier and it will help you remember transactions you made during the year.

Here are a few things the IRS wants you to know about recordkeeping.

Keeping well-organized records also ensures you can answer questions if your return is selected for examination or prepare a response if you receive an IRS notice. In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner. Generally speaking, you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return.

Individual taxpayers should usually keep the following records supporting items on their tax returns for at least three years:

  • Bills
  • Credit card and other receipts
  • Invoices
  • Mileage logs
  • Canceled, imaged or substitute checks or any other proof of payment
  • Any other records to support deductions or credits you claim on your return

You should normally keep records relating to property until at least three years after you sell or otherwise dispose of the property. Examples include:

  • A home purchase or improvement
  • Stocks and other investments
  • Individual Retirement Arrangement transactions
  • Rental property records

If you are a small business owner, you must keep all your employment tax records for at least four years after the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later. Examples of important documents business owners should keep Include:

  • Gross receipts: Cash register tapes, bank deposit slips, receipt books, invoices, credit card charge slips and Forms 1099-MISC
  • Proof of purchases: Canceled checks, cash register tape receipts, credit card sales slips and invoices
  • Expense documents: Canceled checks, cash register tapes, account statements, credit card sales slips, invoices and petty cash slips for small cash payments
  • Documents to verify your assets: Purchase and sales invoices, real estate closing statements and canceled checks

For more information about recordkeeping, check out IRS Publications 552, Recordkeeping for Individuals, 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records, and Publication 463, Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses. These publications are available at IRS.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

I think the key piece for most people to realize is this: “In most cases, the IRS does not require you to keep records in any special manner.”

Many people get very stressed out about whether they’re keeping track of things the “right” way. But any reasonable way that works for you is the “right” way. It also helps if it makes sense to your accountant…but on the other hand if you want to pay somebody like me to sift through your shoe-box, I guess I should be happy to have the extra income ;-)

By keeping track of your expenses in a way that’s clear and easily organized, you not only take the pressure off in the case of an audit, but you also save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and even money when it comes time to put everything together at the end of the year. And with so many accounts providing online access, and free, convenient tools like mint.com available to help tie everything together, keeping decent records throughout the year is becoming easier all the time.

And if you need help devising a system, summer and fall (far away from the craziness of tax season) is a good time to talk to your tax accountant for advice.

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