Get Ready for Taxes by Adam Slavin, CPA
Posted on February 06, 2019 by Adam Slavin
As you wind down your holiday celebrations, it’s important to remember that the federal income tax filing deadlines for 2018 are just around the corner. To avoid the burden and stress of last-minute preparations, consider taking the time now to do some advance planning and get your tax house in order.
Gather Relevant Records
Whether you forgot to save your 2018 tax records or you stuffed them into shoe boxes or file folders throughout the year, now is the time to get all of your documents organized for the April tax-filing deadline. For example, if you contributed cash or other assets to a charitable organization in 2018 and you plan to itemize your deductions for the year, you will need to substantiate those contributions with either a bank record of the canceled check or a written communication from the charity that received your gift.
After the first of the New Year, you will start to receive W-2 wage statements from your employer(s) and/or 1099 statements of nonemployee compensation, royalties and rental income paid to you in 2018. You should also keep an eye out for other tax forms that specify additional income you received during the year in the form of Social Security benefits, interest income, dividends and/or capital gains. Similarly, make it a point to hold on to statements that detail the expenses you paid, including student and mortgage loan interest, state and local sales tax and contributions to retirement accounts, which you may be able to deduct from your taxable income. Because you will need these documents to file your federal and state income tax returns, consider organizing them in a folder and scanning them to save electronically on computers, back-up hard drives and/or flash drives. If you work with an accounting firm that prepares your annual tax returns, ask if it has a secure portal through which you may upload and store those documents temporarily.
The IRS’s online tool that helps taxpayers retrieve transcripts of their previously filed tax returns should be used only as a last resort, since it has been the target of data breaches and email phishing scams.
Know How Long to Hold Records
As a general rule, the IRS recommends taxpayers hold onto their tax returns and supporting documentation for a minimum of three years. However, you should consider keeping those documents for at least seven years, which is the length of time the IRS has to audit a previously filed return that understates income by more than 25 percent. If you failed to file a tax return for any year or if you filed a fraudulent return, there is no statute of limitations, and the IRS can audit you at any time in the future. Therefore, you may consider keeping certain documents, such as those relating to the purchase and sales of real estate and securities, for an even longer period of time.
Know How to Dispose of Documents
Tax records contain your personal information, including your social security number and bank and financial account details, which can get into the wrong hands and result in fraud and/or identify theft. Therefore, it is critical that you shred documents you are disposing of and wipe computer hard drives and any mobile devices on which you store sensitive data.
If you are unsure of what documents you need to meet your tax-filing obligations, how best to retain those documents and for how long, please contact your tax advisors.
About the Author: Adam Slavin, CPA, is a senior manager with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practices, where he provides tax planning and consulting services to high-net-worth individuals and closely held business. He can be reached at the CPA firm’s Boca Raton, Fla., office at (561) 361-2000 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information contained in this article is subject to change based on further interpretation of tax laws and subsequent guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service.