BIZTIPS - January 27, 2008

Biz Tips: Tax Time Offers Chance to Get Organized
Sunday, Jan. 27th, 2008
By Art Hill

If you thrive on the adrenalin rush of waiting until the Saturday before April 15 to work on your taxes, carefully tear this column out and put it somewhere you'll find it that morning.

For the rest of us, tax preparation season has already started. Friends who make their living on this accountant's version of the Christmas rush have already started excusing themselves from school events, civic gatherings, and dental appointments. So like it or not, it's Showtime!

Tax prep doesn't have to be painful. Time-consuming maybe, but not painful. If you've been downloading your bank statements to your PC, you have a good start on gathering totals for income and expense categories. If you have a good system for storing printed documents (and have kept up on filing them), you already have a lot of the documentation you'll need. And for those of us whose driving includes business miles, there's nothing sweeter than digging our dog-eared mileage log out of the center console to find that we actually entered dates and odometer readings when we made deductible trips.

If you didn't get around to one or more of these time-saving activities last year, this is a good time to start. As long as you're sorting receipts, take an extra minute to label file folders for this year's copies. Visit websites for home and small business organizers including Quicken, Quick Books, MS Money, and some new on-line versions that make your files accessible from any PC and keep your records safely protected against crashes and virus attacks. You don't have to download, install, and start building files right now, but tag the websites in your "Favorites" and do the set-up after you finish this year's tax prep.

As long as you're pulling together records from the dusty corners of your home or office (please, not your kitchen drawers!) write down contact information for your bank, credit cards and other accounts, the location of your financial statements, and other information that will enable your family members or appointed agent to pick up where you left off in case you don't come back from that next skydiving trip or get too ill to manage your finances.

At this point, if you're having too much fun to break away for the kids' recital or the Super Bowl, take the next daring steps to avoiding this mess in the future. Put together notes for a will or review your existing one. Weed out paper and electronic files that are duplicates or older than what you need for tax or other required records. By the way, keep tax returns and supporting documents at least six years. It should only take a few inches of file space, and you're a lot more likely to need them than last year's phone bills.

When you're down to the final details, make a list of close family and business contacts, doctors, and emergency medical information for your wallet, put a new mileage log and cheap ballpoint in the glove compartment, and relax. It's still 11 weeks until April 15 ... and counting.


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