Tag Archives: papers

Easy Ways To Prepare Your Tax Return Faster

tax papers 2

If you are feeling overwhelmed as the April 15th tax deadline approaches, you are not alone. Many people delay filing and experience a huge sense of dread as they try to get their tax documents organized and ready to file.

We all know that tax receipts that are disorganized and lying around in piles, musty boxes, and paper clips make it super difficult to prepare the information needed to complete a tax return.

There is a better way. 

If you place your receipts, as you receive them, into file folders that are divided into your actual tax return tax line categories, your avoidance and overwhelm will disappear and tax time will become a breeze! 

For instance, if you are an entrepreneur, consider changing your habits and, all throughout the year, place your receipts for office supplies into a folder marked office supplies.

When you do this, at the end of the year, all that you would need to do is take out those receipts out of their folder, add them up and voilà!  you have the total for the tax line deduction for office supplies! 

After adding up the office supply receipts, you can then staple them together and write the total with a sharpie on the top of the pile. Very low tech, I’ll admit, but super easy, organized and effective!

 If you are an employee, your tax return is super simple. Simply make files for charitable, income, medical, taxes paid and any other categories on your return.  Place your receipts into these files as you go about your year.

Hanging file folders in an actual file drawer, by the way, is considered by industry professionals, including myself, as the best practice method. Hanging files keep your files vertical, and out of potentially collapsed piles, within your drawer.

If you want to ‘up your game’ even more, make duplicate files and mark them odd year, even year. This will keep your receipts separated and you will no longer have 2 years of receipts to sort through when you are compiling your tax return for that one year.

This might sound simple and it is. In fact I have come to realize that the most simple strategies often take the longest amount of time to figure out.

Seth Odam, the inventor of the system I am describing (Freedom Filer) spent 6 years studying IRS tax codes and  also how we remember things when he began developing the ultimate system to keep your tax papers and all of your other papers organized. All of the tips I have given you are based on the amazing Freedom Filer paper flow system.

You can put this system together on your own without the need to purchase the system. If you want to cut corners, save time and get your system put together once and for all – Freedom Filer will save you boatloads of time!

Freedom Filer helps you get a jump start join the process because the Freedom Filer Kit comes with pre-printed labels so that you can quickly set up your system.

This is one of the many emails I receive every year after the April 15th deadline:

“Kathi’s tools and training are amazing. it took me 5 minutes to grab my tax information for my accountant and 30 minutes for her to complete them. Thanks to Kathi’s systems.

Just for the record I have personal business and investment components to my taxes. this was not just a W-2 fill in the blanks EZ return.”

Kathryn A Christensen

Remember – preparing your tax return does not have to be an overwhelming and exhausting task. Check out Freedom Filer to learn more.

Feeling overwhelmed but motivated to change your habits once and for all? Contact us to set up a time for a private consultation and get started creating a new way to organize your papers.

We are available to jump start your paper organizing process, in person or virtually. We know that you, like the thousands of clients before you, can solve your paper receipts problem once and for all! Click here to contact us.

By the way, we are in the process of revising the Home Office Organization Course. If there is anything that you need to help you get your office organized, we would love to have your feedback. Give us your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.

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Do you have a proper filing system? A system that helps you get rid of papers that you no longer want, need or use?

The Wall Street Journal reports the average U.S. executive loses six weeks per year retrieving misplaced information from messy desks and files. The Small Business Administration claims that when paperwork is mishandled it will detract from a company’s ability to service customers, increase sales and improve their bottom line.

Do you have a proper filing system? A system that helps you get rid of papers that you no longer want, need or use? If not, get your papers in your home or office under control with the help of Freedom Filer.

Freedom Filer is the only paper organizing system in the world that helps you get your papers gone!

If you need help getting your system built and ready to roll, call on me. I am a certified paper flow specialist. With my help, your papers will be under control and flowing out or your life on a regular basis!

In person and tele consulting appointments available. Call or email for details.

Contact Kathi at 760.436.4266 or email advice@addSpaceToYourLife.com

 

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Tired of Being Buried Under Paperwork?

Hi Kathi,

I enjoyed your presentation at the Women’s SCORE breakfast at Morgan Run about two years ago. I was fascinated with your ideas and have read your book.

I like your advice to skip over the chapters that don’t apply. The clothes closet one didn’t apply to me, but I read the chapter anyway. My closet is organized by color first, and by season second. (My best organization starts upstream at the store.)

Where I struggle is with the pieces of paper. The action pile is the problem. All of the other categories are organized very well. My manuals are on the bottom left of my lateral filing cabinet. When an iron breaks and I buy a new one, I pull out the old directions and put the new directions in the file folder. All the retirement information is in one place. My file cabinets are very organized. Just like my spices turntables – all in alphabetical order.

So, I think there’s hope for me. Four of the five categories of paper are organized well. And have been for 40 years.

But the action papers. I don’t know what to keep and what to throw away. I’ve learned to throw more away sooner because, as you point out, the history is available on the Internet. I do purge my statements folders once each year. And thanks to your presentation, I toss some receipts or statements immediately.

Have you written a new chapter, or are there websites you can recommend, to help me with this final bit of mastering my muck? Here are examples: Do I need to keep paystub statements? How much medical paperwork should I keep? The dental office has my records. The medical clinic has my records. I use Quicken, so as soon as I’ve downloaded the transactions, I verify things and toss the receipt (unless it’s a big purchase and I need to keep the receipt).

I’ve told many friends and colleagues about your presentation and your book. I look forward to hearing back from you about new ways to think.

Thanks,

Hope Campbell
MA in Educational Technology
Author
Instructional Designer
Technical Writer
and tired of being buried under paper

Hi Hope,

Thanks so much for reaching out with your questions. You are not alone and I commend you for the great work you have done so far. Here are a few tips for each of your specific questions:

Do I need to keep paystub statements?

You do not need to keep your pay stubs if you trust that your employer is deducting the right amount and that you will receive an accurate year end document, ie W2 or 1099. If you are on commission, you might want to save each pay stub until you have been fully compensated for your wrok. After this is verfied, you can shred them.

If you receive a regular salary from a reputable company, you can toss or shred your stubs as soon as they arrive. If your pay is automatically deposited, you can also request that you no longer receive a pay stub.

How much medical paperwork should I keep? The dental office has my records. The medical clinic has my records.

You need to keep your medical bills until they are reimbursed or paid.

If you are on an HSA plan, you can use your HSA funds for many expenses not covered by your health insurance plan. Dental and vision care expenditures are common examples. Keep these receipts for these items and then organize and total them each year and file with your tax return receipts. Keeping 2 files will serve you well and keep your expenses separated for tax time, one for odd year, another for even.

There are many points of view about which medical records you should personally keep such as test results and x-rays. Many people feel that they want to keep and track their complete medical history. If this is your case, create a permanent file folder and save only your test results etc. Do not keep bills or other papers here, only test results. If you get an x ray, ask for it to be given to you on a disc so that it will also fit within this file. I personally keep my annual wellness results and also any blood work results and let my doctor save the other documents and x rays. Do whatever falls within your comfort zone.

I use Quicken, so as soon as I’ve downloaded the transactions, I verify things and toss the receipt (unless it’s a big purchase and I need to keep the receipt). 

Keep receipts for every expenditure over $75 that appears on your tax return. If you are an employee as opposed to an home-based business. you dont need to keep many receipts as your tax return is simple: medical (as of this date, you can deduct eligible medical expenses to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income), tax docs such as W2 and earned interest and charitable donations are typically the only items that you record to the IRS.  These will be the only receipts that you need to keep and archive with your tax return.

All other receipts can be tossed as soon as they are input into Quicken. As an aside, I keep an envelope in my purse for purchases that I might possibly need to return. I toss the grocery receipts into the grocery trashcan as I leave the store or sometimes even tell the check out person to toss them for me! Once a month or so, I go through that envelope and get rid of the receipts for the merchandise that I am satisfied with. This way, I dont bring receipts and extra papers into my house or office that are not relevant to my tax return.

You might also want to watch this quick news braodcast where I provided more tips for managing and eliminating your paperwork.

I hope that this helps you finish your organizing process. Keep up the good work and feel free to connect again if you have more questions!

PS, I love the use of turntables and organizing your spices in alphabetical order, Yay!

 

 

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Book and Paper Clutter Can Cause Overwhelm and Make You Miss Opportunities

 

 

Hello, Thank you for all the wonderful information that you share. My story, is all about books and papers, I have always been a book person and also have kept many things hoping to share them with others. I have books mainly on health, natural healing, gardening, self help , astrology, Metaphysical, cooking, As I have always been interested in healing and cooking.

I am now 73 years old and really want to do something about all the books and papers I have around me I know that I have a lot of wonderful things to share that could help others but I have not find a way to do it, yet.

I would love to open a cooking school to teach food body connection and herbs and gardening but do not have the money to do it. I am trying to find a way to decide if I have to let all these books and papers go or what, I would appreciate you letting me know what you think about this.

Thanks, Janette

 

Hi Janette,

I am so glad that you took the time to post this question in the comments section under the article about paper clutter. Books and papers are a challenge for many of us, including my family. You are not alone!Papers and books can cause quite a havoc on your environment. I can relate to your dilemma as I am an avid reader and love the printed page in whatever form it is given to me!It sounds like you have been collecting articles and books for quite some time.

My advice would be to look around your home and determine how many you can comfortably fit without feeling overwhelmed. It helps to keep all of your books etc into one area of your home to avoid the cluttered feeling and atmosphere.So, take for instance, I decided to keep all of our books in the guest room. Once I decided this, it became easy to see how many bookshelves I could fit/use in that room. My family also has issues around cookbooks. My husband has never met a cookbook that he does not like!

So, that being said, once I determined where our books would live, I bought 3 Billy book shelves from Ikea to line one of the walls. I use the Billy shelf frequently because they are 72″ tall and use the vertical space in each room efficiently.The space on those 3 shelves determined how many books we could keep. This containment system made us decide which books were the most important and which were not. We got rid of every book that did not fit into that pre-determined space. Since it was difficult task, we filled up every inch. This was not the best method because then every time we got a new book, we had to let one go.

The better idea is to purge enough books so that there is room to grow without having to urge more after each new purchase. One in, one out, so to speak continues the process. We eventually were able to create enough space on the shelves to add a few photos, vases and artwork so the shelves were not so crowded and more visually appealing.

So, the moral to the story is that you need to make an agreement with yourself how many books and papers make sense in your environment. Once that is decided, storing them all into one area of the house will eliminate the cluttered feeling. If you truly want to start leading classes and share your years of knowledge, why don’t you explore who else does this in your area and give them some of your books? You never know, this gift might lead to forging an alliance and allow you to offer a few classes at their venue! Even if this does not happen, you will feel lighter and your home less cluttered when you let go of your excess.

Regarding your loose papers and files, you need to ask yourself if you could find them easier, quicker and more up to date when, and if, you need them later with an online google search. Typically, you can find information on any topic x 10,000 you need much more quickly on Google than trying to find files on the same topic within your home or office later.

If you would like more tips on how to organize the papers that you decide to keep, click on this link. Thanks so much for your question. I hope this response helps!

 

 

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A Busy Home Office Overwhelmed with Paperwork Gets Freedom Filed!

A client recently contacted me because she was unclear about what paperwork she needed to keep and what she could shred. She had papers spread throughout her office. With information pertaining to numerous investment properties and multiple (more…)

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A note from a ‘Freed’ Filer

Hi Kathi,

I am SOOOO GLAD I spent the last year getting rid of “piles” in each closet, drawer, and living space.  We should all be conscious of what we have, and its easy to lose a sense of that when things are tucked away and we can’t see them. 

How many times have I come across something while looking for something else and thought, oh that’s where that was! 

We have so much, we don’t even miss things we can’t find.  And yet, in our unconscious, all those things that have ties to us tug on us and weigh us down.

Lighten up – unload each space that is yours and glean through to get rid of deadweight.  Like cutting our hair, it gets rid of the dead ends and leaves what’s left shiny and healthier  ;  )

Question:  Is there a specific Property Tax File?   Ours is paid in December and in April.  I think it goes in my December (or april) file to pay when it comes December, then filed in Tax files for the year.  Do I get a gold star?

Your freed filer friend,

g

Hi G,

Yes, indeed, you do get a GOLD star! 

 

You are correct – within your customized system you will file the bills in your monthly files and then after they are paid, move them into the blue ‘taxes paid’  file. 

Great job!
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Use hanging file folders to seperate papers within file drawers

Hanging File

The filing question from yesterday reminds me of another common scenario. I frequently open client file drawers and find manila folders without hanging files. There is a reason that hanging files were invented. For those of you who are not enlisted in this practice, let me provide a few good reasons to use this tool.

1. Hanging file folders keep files from falling together and sliding down into the drawer. (more…)

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File papers into hanging folders ‘heads to the right’

Hanging File Folders

Recently a client wrote to me with a very good question. I always advise that folks file their papers into hanging folders and when they do this to insert the individual papers with the top heading to the right.

Here is what my client wrote:

This is question that pops in my mind every time I file something . . . .
what is the reason for filing papers
(more…)

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How to organize your home office

Home office

Once you decide to work from home, designating an office space is mandatory. Even if it is just a large table in a corner, the key is to make it an exclusive work area – nothing unrelated to your business should be allowed. This will allow you to stay more fully focused on your business at hand, and keeping your other paperwork such as private financial records separate may even qualify you for a home office tax write-off.

Organize your desk properly from the very beginning and make sure to spend at least ten minutes a day keeping it that way. Just a small investment of time will save you countless hours of frustration looking for misplaced or lost papers or trying to do paperwork on a hopelessly cluttered desktop. Make use of desk and drawer organizers to keep pens, paper-clips and sticky notes handy.

Be certain you have a trash basket by your desk to dispose of unneeded paper and discarded envelopes or mail. This will reduce mess and help keep your workspace clear. Have a vertical inbox on top of your desk to hold papers or files that require immediate attention, and an outbox somewhere by the exit of your office for mail and packages that are awaiting pickup or a trip to the post office.

Make sure your file cabinet is industrial strength. If a brand new one is outside of your price range, check thrift and second hand stores for a gently used, well made cabinet. Likewise, try to find a desk large enough to hold your computer and leave plenty of surface space free for work. These items are worth investing in; good quality cabinets will last you for years. Likewise, an ergonomic chair is almost a necessity if you want to avoid fatigue and back strain.

Form a habit of filing papers as you handle them instead of letting them stack up on your desk. Decide on a categorizing system and label all files accordingly. Use the same approach for your daily mail; open it all immediately and discard the junk, then file remaining mail (invoices, bills, etc) in the appropriate place. Have a special folder for business expenses and keep every receipt for business related items – these will be useful when tax time rolls around.

Take an hour or two each week to enter any new contact information into your database. Handheld computer scanners are available to make entering business card data quick and efficient, or you can use a regular rolodex file and simply staple the business cards to the blanks provided. Many businesses depend on accurate, up to date contacts, and you will benefit from having this information at your fingertips.

If you are working more than 40 to 60 hours a week, or are having difficulty finding time for family, consider hiring help for lawn care and housework. This will cut down on stress, and may even increase your productivity to the point that such a proposal can pay for itself.

Working from home is an incredible experience, but requires a high degree of organization to be fully effective. By designating a section of your home as a special work zone, you will enable yourself to work without distraction and reach your greatest potential.

by Kathi Burns – addSpace To Your Life!TM,
a Professional Organizing and Image Consulting Agency
Want to get better organized and look your best?
Get more quick tips by visiting the addSpace To Your Life!TM website.
Request Free addSpace eTips by clicking on the top right button.
http://addspacetoyourlife.com

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Stash Before You Trash with Semi-Permanent Storage Solutions

Although you may want to devote a single weekend to performing a complete cleanse of your closets or storage spaces, a more practical approach might be to take it one step at a time.

For one thing, if you are not using the assistance of a professional organizer, you could find yourself paralyzed by the overwhelming enormity of clearing out years of accumulated stuff in two days’ time and end up not getting rid of anything as a result. Alternatively, you might eradicate everything for which you see no immediate need and a month down the road, find yourself having to buy things you just tossed.

No, when it comes to clearing out tons of clutter, if you are not using the help of a professional organizer, taking baby steps may be a better tactic. Instead of trying to go from closet to curb by Sunday night, aim for organizing everything into labeled boxes that you can place into a semi-permanent storage space. In essence, you can give yourself some time to test out the absence of your designated ‘don’t keep’ items before you part with them permanently.

And if you do decide they belong with you for good, the items are already neatly packed away in boxes that you can relocate to a separate storage unit or leave in their new spot at the back of an unobtrusive closet, out of sight and out of your way (but never really out of reach).

Here are some tips to help you jumpstart your semi-permanent storage trial run and some best practices for cleaning up the clutter now and maintaining a clutter-free environment moving forward.

Create a manageable plan that includes realistically attainable goals.
Much of the battle against a bulging closet is won or lost before you even attack. Embrace the ‘baby steps’ philosophy by breaking the entire project up into easily digestible portions:

  • Separate entire portions of the home into rooms: ‘Organize the upstairs’ becomes ‘Organize master bedroom’ and ‘Organize office’ and so forth
  • Separate entire rooms into single spaces: ‘Organize master bedroom’ becomes ‘Clean out dresser’ and ‘organize master closet,’ etc.
  • Separate single spaces into individual tasks: ‘Organize master closet’ becomes ‘Straighten shoes’ and ‘Swap out seasonal clothes’ and so on

From here, you can use the individual tasks as opportunities to streamline your items, remove the excess, and straighten up the space in general.

For example, the task ‘Swap out seasonal clothes’ allows you to pull aside all of your winter clothes and replace them with your spring and summer wardrobe. During the transition, eliminate from both categories as you go and divide the items into boxes that you’ve pre-labeled Keep, Donate, Recycle, and Trash.

  • Keep everything that you are likely to wear next year like currently-fitting jeans, sweaters, pants, shirts, etc. If they don’t fit or you don’t want them when next year rolls around, conduct another elimination round at that time, but you are allowing yourself room to change your mind in the meantime.
  • Donate everything that is still in good condition but that you are unlikely to wear again – because it doesn’t fit, it’s no longer your style, or it’s no longer age-appropriate. This is the box of transitional items that you can place in the back of the newly-de-cluttered closet and hold onto for another six months to see if circumstances are still the same. If you need to take any items out of the box or add to it, you can do it then and deliver the box at the appropriate (in season) time to the designated charity.
  • Recycle and Trash are more applicable with papers, documents, and broken or damaged items (toys, ripped clothes, etc.) that can be discarded immediately – no waiting period required.

But maybe ‘current clothes’ aren’t the source of your clutter. Perhaps you’ve accumulated a plethora of miscellaneous items over the years that you need to tame. For those, here are some questions to help you decide what stays for re-discovery down the road and what needs to go immediately:

Does it have important sentimental value?
You might find sentimental value in every pint-sized pair of socks and shoes from when your kids were little, but unless you’re only keeping the truly memorable pieces, the collection of clothes can get out of hand in a hurry.

Select some of the most important items like their Christening gown, their first pair of shoes, and even a few of the more subjective items (like the monogrammed dress that she wore in your favorite Christmas card from 15 years ago) that you want to preserve and do that – have them professionally preserved or properly packed away in a place wherein they’re out of the way but are protected until you pull them out again in a few years.

Other items that fall into this category might include:

  • Yearbooks
  • Photo albums
  • Cards announcing births, engagements, weddings, and other important milestones for those most dear to you (sorry, second cousins you haven’t seen in a decade don’t count)
  • Wedding items (a gown, shoes, jewelry, etc.)

Does it have important functional value?
You love the stack of magazines you’ve accumulated over the years, but when they grow to the point that they need their own storage unit, it’s time to pare them down. Go through them and pull out important articles or recipes or inspirational photos – whatever you’ve kept the magazines for – and create a single scrapbook or photo album with those and recycle the rest.

To take your organization a step further, scan the clippings and create an electronic copy of them and recycle the originals with the rest of the stack.

Moving forward, only buy items that you need and try to buy them only when you need them. And by keeping an eye on your clutter before it grows, you can avoid these semi-permanent storage solutions entirely.

Until then, what other items have you placed in semi-permanent storage and what did you end up keeping at the end of the trial period? You will find that there was hardly anything that was kept out of sight was missed or needed when your trial run was over.
You will discover it much easier to let go in the moment after you go through one of these trial storage solutions!

About the Author: Garret Stembridge is part of the team at www.extraspace.com, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about storage and organization topics for homes and for businesses.

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