You can organize your way to less traumatic tax time

TIME SAVER

April 02, 1995|By Susan Hipsley | Susan Hipsley,Special to The Sun

Hate to file? Join the multitudes.

But if you don't do it, tax time is a nightmare. Even if a tax preparer does the computing, it's still up to you to do the dirty work of finding the information that determines what to write down on Form 1040.

Never pleasant, the job is easier if receipts, legal documents, canceled checks and the like are at least segregated into separate files, baskets, envelopes. It doesn't have to be a fancy system.

"Organization, as I define it, is functional," says Stephanie Winston, president of the Organizing Principle in New York and author of "Stephanie Winston's Best Organizing Tips" (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Here are some of them:

Phase 1. Setting up your system:

* Keep tax-pertinent check stubs in labeled slots in a check-size accordion file. * Record deductible mileage.

* Designate one credit card to use for all deductible expenses.

Phase 2. Getting ready:

* Get all necessary forms and photocopy the originals to make working copies.

* Break the job down. One day add up pay stubs to make sure they correspond to your W-2. The next day add up charitable contributions, and so on. If your accountant does it, it will cost you.

Phase 3. Doing them:

* Enter a must-start date in your calendar. Stick to it! Designate an entire day for the job.

* Assemble everything you'll need to do the job before starting.

Phase 4. Finishing up:

* Put a copy of the return along with supporting receipts, canceled checks and other documentation in to a large envelope with the year noted on the outside. You'll need it if you're audited.

* Dom LaPonzina, spokesperson for the Washington/Baltimore IRS office says, "I advise taxpayers to keep their records for three years prior to the current year. Any record associated with the returns should be retained." Questionable returns are audited within three years and civil cases (basically unwitting errors of omission or unsupported claims) can be brought "three years from the date the return was due or the date the return was filed, whichever is later," says Mr. LaPonzina.

The statute of limitations on criminal cases (willful intent to evade taxes) is seven years from the date the return was filed.

IN TIME

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