Why all this paperwork?
To make your tax preparation as quick and easy as possible, it is important to bring all the information necessary to complete your taxes. Most of the information arrives in the mail between January and February, so it is fairly straightforward to gather.
Tax documents that come in the mail from January to February
To keep tax information in one place, consider getting a box for storing your tax-related mail (a leftover holiday box works great). As mail comes in, place it directly in the box. You can print the “What to Bring” list and check off items as you place them in the box. Once the list is checked off, you are ready to go!
Storing documents throughout the years
For documents you need to keep long-term, such as home purchase and improvement documents, Federal and State taxes, and business records, consider making a folder for each topic. As you collect documents, place them directly in the folder.
Storing computer files
You should regularly back up your electronic documents by copying the documents to a CD, DVD, or hard disk drive. You can also print out copies, either quarterly or annually. Critical information should be stored in a secure location off-site or in a fire safe.
Keeping logs and other records
Expenses such as automobile deductions, computer and cell phone usage, and travel and entertainment expenses are likely to require that you keep logs showing usage and expenses. For automobile usage, you should track mileage, trip dates and locations, and the business purpose of the trip. For computers, record the amount of time spent and whether it was for business or personal use. For cell phones, record the date of the calls, amount of time spent, and whether it was for business or personal use. For travel and entertainment, record the dollar amount of the expense, names of people involved, date of expense, and business purpose.
Original documents are always the best. Keep all receipts, along with cancelled checks or credit card slips. If you are unable to find your original receipts (because they were accidentally lost or destroyed), you can reconstruct receipts. Reconstructed receipts should be clearly marked as such. NEVER submit a forged receipt or document.
Keep Federal and State tax returns forever. You can be audited up to three years after your taxes are due, so keep all records a minimum of three years. Records that support business assets need to be kept for a minimum of three years after an asset is fully depreciated. To be safe, keep all records a minimum of seven years.