4 last-minute tax tools
Financial institutions and online services provide some nifty aids for wrestling your information into submission before the April 18 deadline.
You let your taxes go until the last minute. And now you need some help.
Taxes are due April 18, come heck or high water, so if you've procrastinated, here is your one-stop shop for fast and easy tools for getting your business finances organized for the taxman.
None of these are particularly pretty, mind you, but they will get your finances in IRS-ready shape -- and fast.
1. Let your bank -- or better yet, your credit card -- manage your expenses.
If you let the year slip by without tracking your business expenses, fear not. The online accounting wave is there to bail you out. Traditional banks and credit card companies now offer almost absurdly sophisticated financial management tools that generate remarkably robust expense reports. All the major banking systems have means to export spending in either spreadsheet or QuickBooks formats -- and label that spending in a category, which is what the IRS really cares about.
Simply pull out all the expenses that are not deductible from that exported spreadsheet and poof, you are left with a ready-to-upload spreadsheet that flows into most accounting packages. This trick has saved me tons of time in the past.
2. Create a quickie ledger with Kashoo ($9.95 a month).
While it might be too late to get started with a legit business accounting tool such as FreshBooks or QuickBooks, several low- or no-cost accounting packages make it possible to assemble at least a decent set of ledgers in a single afternoon. I like Vancouver-based Kashoo's online tool.
The secret during tax crunch time is not to spend time creating budgets, invoice or paying employees. Instead, use the tools to figure out what you made, what you billed, what is in the pipeline and what your deductible costs are and in which category they belong. And this well-priced, easy-to-use ledger is dead easy for that. After the tax drama is over, you have yourself a nice little accounting package to boot.
3. Check your exposure with Outright's risk tool (free).
The folks over at Outright -- which, by the way, is a heck of an accounting package and dirt cheap to boot -- have created this crafty Web app that lets you check your audit risk. Simply enter your industry and your business and it will give you dollar guidance on what the IRS considers reasonable expenses. I am not saying you should cater your returns to these rules, but it sure is helpful to get a second opinion on what an expense is or is not. Very handy.
4. Postpone the inevitable on the IRS extension page.
If all else fails -- and I mean all else, since extensions really are the road to Hades -- it might be time to consider filing an extension. The IRS makes this reasonable for individuals and business.
Simply go to the "Extension of Time to File Your Tax Return" link on the IRS website, find the proper form and, poof, you have six extra months!
What you will find, though, is that this really is only the beginning of your troubles. You still must estimate what you owe, pay at least something by the deadline and then are responsible for the interest on the difference between what you paid and your tax obligation. And, you are still living with the headache of your taxes for another six months.
Trust me, the smart move is to bite the bullet, use a proper accountant and ledger software and get your taxes done now. Extensions really do make your life miserable.
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