I am no tax expert. When I think about doing taxes, I always remember the episode of Roseanne where they have an overflowing shoebox full of receipts on tax day. Or the free Dunkin Donuts at the post office at midnight on April 15th when I was a kid. Apparently there are rewards for waiting until the last minute!
I am still waiting around until the last minute to figure out what I am going to do, despite my best intentions to be more on top of things. I would like to think I am not the only one still operating this way, so on the chance that I am not alone in this, I figured I would share the system I started this year (ok, a few days ago) in an effort to get organized.
Filing Tax Information in Evernote
Over the past several years I have either had help or used TurboTax. This year I put on my brave big girl face and walked into H&R Block to make an appointment. The very nice (not scary) lady behind the counter made me an appointment with her very nice tax person for the following week.
She then handed me a simple checklist with everything I would need to get together. “Prep for HR Block appt” then sat on my reminders list for about six days until I finally got serious about getting everything in order.
Since going paperless several years ago, I fortunately did not have a shoebox of receipts to contend with like Dan & Roseanne. I did, however, have the digital equivalent of junk piles in my Evernote account.
In my Evernote files, I had one notebook called “Money”. This notebook is kind of a mess, despite my Suze Orman book reading. I have gone back and forth between whether I should have a separate notebook called “Taxes” and a few years ago decided to combine everything financial in one place. I didn’t have a consistent labeling system for the notes within this notebook, so everything was just thrown in and jumbled up, waiting for April 2014 to roll around for me to (maybe) get it all organized.
H&R Block will also do a second look for the past 3 years (fortunately for me, since I am not 100% confident in my ability to use TurboTax), so not only did I task myself with getting my 2013 tax documents in order, but also those since 2010. And then I just decided I might as well get everything tax-related in order while I was at it.
Categories for Tax Information Files
I started out by creating a separate notebook for each tax year in Evernote, and sorting things out simply by year. This was my old system that I consolidated into the one notebook entitled “Money”. Figuring out what categories to use for things is always such a challenge for me. One thing I try to pay more attention to now is not having too many categories. I knew having a separate notebook for each tax year was probably overkill, but also figured I could change the system later once I got everything sorted.
I then spent some time trying to figure out what to call each note within each tax year notebook. I went back and forth naming and renaming things so they would fall into a consistent order. I decided to go by the H&R Block worksheet categories since they are the tax people and I honestly have no idea what I am doing.
Once I started to recognize a pattern in the type of notes I was creating, I realized I could easily preface each note with the tax year, and just have one notebook called “Taxes”. Starting each note with the tax year name ensures that the notes and the documents they contain will always be in chronological order and therefore categorized in a useful way. If the notes aren’t ordered by year, you can click “View Options” in the web-based version and select “Title – ascending” or “Title – descending”.
Click here for my example template. Note: this is a very basic template with a few items I figured most people could relate to. I am keeping my checklist from H&R Block handy so I can refer to it when I am ready to add to my existing categories.
I decided to let each note contain one category of documents, since having one note per document seemed like too much. I created a short table of contents at the top of each note so I could quickly tell what I already had saved in each note without having to scroll through multiple documents. Since after three years there isn’t any going back (as far as I know), I just consolidated everything for each year prior to 2010 into one note per year to reduce the total number of notes in the notebook.
Setting up this system took less than a day. The real test will be whether I can immediately save things where they need to go when they come into my life throughout the year, so that next year everything is already sorted well before April.
Think Kindergarten Classroom
Being able to keep up with organized files is like being able to keep up with an organized home. Or, as Julie Morgenstern says, a Kindergarten classroom. When everything has a place to go before it even comes into the house or email inbox, it can be put away with very little effort. When there isn’t a system in place for where something belongs, it is more likely to get neglected in a junk pile on the kitchen counter to be dealt with at a date not yet determined in the future.
Part of me fears that I have that first day of school enthusiasm, where I say I am going to get everything done on time this year, and then two weeks later it is back to the old habits. I am hoping to use my new Exernote taxes folder more diligently throughout the year this year as things come in. I will let you know next year how it went! In the meantime, how do you keep track of your tax information throughout the year? Let us know below! Namaste!
image credit: Being Nickel.