by Emily Herwig of Tidy Life, LLC
Welcome to February, the month of blizzards, cupids, and tax forms in your mailbox! The deadline to postmark W-2 and 1099 forms was January 31, so by now you should have received most of the paperwork you need to file your annual returns. Your potential reward is a nice tax refund, so what are you waiting for?
If you haven’t kept your receipts for tax-deductible expenses organized throughout the year, now is the time to get them in order so you’re not scrambling in April. If you’re a technophobe or satisfied with hard copies, you can organize your receipts using an accordion file. Otherwise, digitizing your tax documentation is highly recommended because it:
- Preserves the information from thermal paper receipts, which fade over time, often in less than the 7 years you may be required by law to keep them
- Creates a duplicate of your paper records, which can be further backed up in the cloud, on external hard drives, or on flash drives or CDs
- Provides an easy way to share supporting documentation with your accountant or tax professional while allowing you to keep the originals
- Gives you the ability to search for receipts by keyword instead of sifting through a sea of little papers
- Takes up less space than paper!
Many people think that by going paperless, they can avoid organizing their documents. Untrue! It’s not about the paper, it’s about the information. Here are a few different approaches for tackling this project; your choice will depend on how much time and money you wish to commit.
Outsource Your Scanning
The easiest approach is to let someone else do the scanning for you. For a monthly fee, services like Shoeboxed will scan and digitally organize your paper records, give you secure access to them in the cloud, and enable you to export the data to various other software programs. (If you’re willing to do the scanning yourself but want to use Shoeboxed’s software, there’s a free plan available.)
The Scannerless Option
Mobile apps such as TurboScan (for iOS), JotNot (for iOS) and CamScanner (for Android) use your phone’s camera to digitize documents and receipts. You have the option to email the files as PDF or JPEG or open them in another app on your mobile device.
Scan to Folders
For the novice techie, a simple approach is to use a home office scanner to create PDF or JPEG files of your receipts and save them to your computer in a folder structure that maps to your expense categories (advertising, insurance, travel, etc). Digitizing your receipts this way is a start, but it doesn’t allow you to quickly and visually scan their contents or sum up expenses.
Two of the most popular brands of scanners are Fujitsu ScanSnap and Neat, both of which are sheet-fed (they accept a stack of papers) and can scan both sides of a paper at once. These “smart scanners” automatically perform minor corrections such as cropping white space and straightening out crooked images, and perform OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to make documents searchable. They come with their own digital filing system software, mobile apps (to access your scanned documents from anywhere), and link to many cloud software services.
Uploading scanned receipts into Evernote, a digital notebook, is another great option. Because Evernote’s search function is so powerful, you can search your receipts by vendor (example: “Staples”), date, dollar amount, name of item purchased, etc. For those folks who DO want to go digital but DON’T want to spend a lot of time organizing documents once they’re scanned, Evernote is a winner.
With all these tricks up your sleeve, and 2+ months standing between you and tax day, what do you have to lose? Give it a shot and enjoy a paperless tax season!
© 2013 Emily Herwig, Tidy Life LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Emily Herwig is the owner of Tidy Life, LLC based in Baltimore. She helps individuals and businesses maximize their limited time and space through organization, productivity, time management, and technology. Emily is currently serving as the Director of Communications & Technology for the NAPO Baltimore Chapter.