Getting Ahead of the Curve
by Bob Williams
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The appearance of spring means plants blooming, warmer days, and -- dare we say it -- maybe, a trip to the beach? It also means the passage of ice on the windshield, shoveling snow, cold morning commutes -- and thankfully -- tax season.
The measure of relief one feels as April 15 goes streaking by may very well hinge on just how much difficulty you had to overcome in the filing process. And if your tax experience this year was Number One on the Nail-Biting Hit List, we'd like to help.
Start with the "Before" picture: You, the taxpayer, are seated either at the kitchen table or on the living room floor. Scattered about you is the flotsam of your financial life -- receipts, bank statements, invoices and property tax bills. As you go about filling in the income tax forms, you hunt for the needed paperwork piece by elusive piece, because you know it's in there -- somewhere.
And with each missing piece of the puzzle, you lose time. And you lose patience. So suddenly you find yourself up against the filing deadline with an extension the only lifeline.
Enter Your Alternate Reality
Let's rewind to a different scene. Sure, you're still sitting on the floor in the living room, but gone are the scattered piles of paperwork. And you've got a nice little smile on your face. That's because when last tax season ended, you went out to the Monster Mart and got one of those plastic portable file boxes for all your important tax stuff.
Inside, you put file pockets for some of the important papers you knew your life would generate over the coming year: vehicle expenses, charities, child care expenses, real estate taxes, mortgage interest statements and so on. And you thought to file away each piece of paper when you got it -- you didn't let them pile up and get lost. So, when tax time rolled around, it was all in there. You didn't have to hunt for a thing. Major Convenience Factor!
Your New Game Plan
You see, it's all about organization -- before tax season ever starts to sit heavily on your shoulders. Start now, and it won't be such a chore next April. So think seriously about how best to keep your important paperwork under control. And it doesn't matter what kind of tax return you plan to file; even if you're single with no kids, you need to get organized now. Remember, chaos is one-size-fits-all; you don't get to pick your poison. Organization is the antidote.
But Wait - There's More
Organization is one of the biggest steps we can take to make income tax time a lot less stressful, but it's not the only one. Another one is to adjust your withholding on your paycheck. For example, take a look at your last income tax return. Did you get a hefty refund because you had way too much taken out of your paychecks for federal withholding? Wouldn't you rather have a bigger paycheck throughout the year instead -- and still owe nothing come tax time?
While we can't tell you here what your individual situation should be, we do have a tool to do just that. The IRS Payroll Withholding calculator can help you zero in on that perfect balance -- maximum paycheck, zippo extra to the taxman. Give it a try with your numbers and see how you come out. If a change is in order, tell your employer's bookkeeping department.
And while you're in the neighborhood, think about modifying your deductions on your return. If you usually claim the standard deduction, you might be able to reduce your taxes if you itemize instead. If your itemized deductions fall just below the standard deduction, consider making an extra mortgage payment or a charitable contribution to reap the extra benefit.
There - Don't We Feel Better Now?
Hopefully we've given you some tools that will help you build a much less stressful tax season next year. While we can't guarantee you can put away the meditation pillow and the aromatherapy candles, with a little organization and homework you may find you can cope with tax time a little better next time around.
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