OKLAHOMA CITY - With less than two months until the April 15 tax deadline, now is a great time to start maintaining and securing records of your personal information for next year’s tax filing — or to get your financial house in order before filing this year. The Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA) offers recordkeeping recommendations to significantly ease the filing process.
Organization is essential in helping reduce the stress of tax preparation for both the taxpayer and the certified public accountant (CPA) preparing returns. The OSCPA suggests the following best practices for information keeping:
Develop a method: On paper or electronically, it’s important to have a clear, consistent recordkeeping method that fits your financial situation. Getting your receipts and statements organized into files will help ensure you have all the records you need and will make the process of working with your tax preparer more efficient.
- Most CPAs suggest separating your records into at least three groups:
- Income: Include statements for anything you receive that gets reported to the IRS, such as salary, dividends, interest and self-employment earnings.
- Expenses and deductions: Save the statements and receipts of proof you’ll need for itemized deductions, such as charitable deductions, child care costs, medical bills, etc.
- Investments: Consider creating separate files for deductible/tax-deferred investments, nondeductible investments and taxable investments. If you’re unsure, a CPA can categorize them for you.
Ensure you have proper documentation of gifts and donations: Especially when making a large gift, you may receive several letters from an organization thanking you for your gift. However, not just any letter will do. You must have in your possession the correct letter of substantiation of the gift before filing your tax return. A CPA can help ensure you have the proper documentation
Keep secure copies elsewhere: It’s a good idea to keep secure copies of original documents and electronic copies in a trusted, secondary location to prevent the loss of your records due to property damage. Keep irreplaceable documents in a safe deposit box, a fireproof safe or backed up electronically to your computer, the cloud and/or an external hard drive that is encrypted.
Keep your security software up to date: Be sure to continue regular updates of your electronic security software if you keep your personal financial records on your computer.
Know what to keep and for how long: Because the IRS and the state can examine your personal income tax return up to three years following the filing date, the OSCPA recommends saving records that support your tax returns for at least the previous three years. This includes bills, credit card and other receipts, invoices, mileage logs, canceled, imaged or substitute checks or other proof of payment, and any other records to support deductions or credits claimed.
- Plan to permanently keep items that would be difficult to replace. Those items include completed income tax returns, legal documents, retirement and pension records, audit documents, trust documents and vital records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, etc.
- Remember to shred: When you’re ready to purge documents that are no longer needed, be sure to shred them to avoid theft of your personal information.
Talk to a CPA.
A CPA can help with organization and other tax-filing tips. Turn to him or her with all your financial questions. If you don’t have a CPA, you can get a free referral and free 30-minute consultation at www.FindYourCPA.com. For more money tips, visit www.KnowWhatCounts.org, where you can sign up for a free e-newsletter, try out financial calculators or ask a CPA a question.