7 tips for spring cleaning your finances
Is your filing cabinet groaning under the weight of old financial documents? Do you have canceled checks from 2004?
This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.
Spring cleaning is an important (and practical) tradition in many households. Dumping all the junk and staying organized gives us more space and peace of mind.
But one place where people often fear to clear the clutter is their filing cabinets, where old paperwork collects. A few simple questions tend to keep the paper piling higher: "What if I need these later for taxes? What if I get audited? Will I need proof I paid for this?"
If that sounds familiar -- or if you had trouble finding what you needed for Tax Day -- maybe it's time to face your filing fears. Stacy Johnson, our resident CPA, offers some advice in the video below on what to keep and what to toss. Then read on for more tips on cutting clutter and going paperless.
As Stacy mentioned in the video, most of us keep paper we never needed to start with. The first thing to do is evaluate your record-keeping system. It doesn't have to be fancy and sortable by colored tabs, but it should work for your family and ultimately save more time than you spend maintaining it.
Here’s some other advice:
Some more examples of stuff you don't need:
- ATM slips, once your account is reconciled.
- Credit card receipts, after reconciling against your statement, unless they'll be needed as proof of purchase or for taxes.
- Canceled checks, same as above.
- Expired warranties.
- Expired insurance policies.
You'll want to keep paperwork supporting income tax deductions for at least three years after you file that tax return. This lengthy list includes: receipts for home office equipment, professional dues, business-related travel and entertainment expenses, retirement account contributions, donations, medical expenses, deductible interest, mortgage and property tax payments. (More on taxes in a minute.)
- Calculator:Am I saving enough for retirement?
You also may want to keep receipts for big purchases for insurance purposes, and final paid-in-full bills -- in case they later say you owe them more.
Then there are things you need for a year or less: pay stubs, utility statements (unless they're business deductions), monthly credit card and mortgage statements.
Understand tax requirements. As mentioned above, most people only need to keep tax-deduction-related documents for three years, the maximum length of time the IRS typically goes back to audit.
Keep final copies of your returns indefinitely as proof you filed, but otherwise the only reason you'd need to keep tax stuff longer than three years is if you're cheating: Under-report your income by 25% or more, and the IRS can go back six years. File a fraudulent return or fail to file one and there's no limit.
The IRS gets into specifics on how long to keep every type of tax record in Publication 552.
Another backup plan:Store your files on an online "cloud service" for free, and you can access them from any computer. You can get 5 GB storage from Amazon or iDrive and 2 GB of storage from Dropbox that you can sync to mobile devices and share with others. More space is available with paid plans, but that should be more than enough for most people's documents. Whatever you do, just remember to name, tag, or otherwise label files well for future searches.
Whatever you do to get your paperwork in order, stick to it and make sure it keeps saving you time.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
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