2. Adopt a storage system that works for you
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April Walker, lead manager for tax practice and ethics for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), says the paperwork storage/organization part of tax prep is a highly personal decision — you have to land on a system that works best for you. For some (like Coombes), this entails storing your receipts in a drawer or in a filing cabinet, in one easily accessible location, until you’re ready to tackle them.
Disorganization can be costly come tax time. “You might not be able to find that receipt for your childcare payment, and then you decide not to declare the benefit and you lose out on a valuable tax break,” Coombes says.
To this end, budgeting apps, like Quicken and Mint, have features that allow you to track or capture expenses electronically and on the fly and have tools that flag tax deductible expenses.
However you prepare, just be sure to do your math before submitting your paperwork: If you use a CPA to prepare your taxes, Walker warns they might charge more for having to deal with your receipts.
3. Budget your time
Allot enough time to review credit card statements, PayPal and debit card statements to see if there are deductible expenses you might have forgotten about. And, if you drive for work, be sure to track your miles, says Coombes.
4. Ask your accountant about more than taxes
To most people, meeting with your CPA is all about praying for a refund — or at least the tax you owe is minimal. But, Walker says, keeping the conversation focused on taxes is an overlooked opportunity to address your overall financial well-being. “A CPA is able to give ideas for the rest of your life,” she says. “You’re also going to want to talk about other things, like retirement, or saving for college, or cash flow and budgeting. To make the most of your appointment (and your CPA’s expertise), prepare a list of questions to ask your CPA about ways to improve your financial wellbeing before your appointment.