Organizing your papers can be a frustrating, time-consuming job. Liberators with Major Organizers offer tips for getting your papers organized in time for tax season and beyond.*

*Note: The information in this article is for general use. We are not certified tax advisers. Contact your accountant or lawyer with questions about your specific situation.

Organizing For Tax Season:

  • Go on a paper hunt. Gather all your papers in one place, then sort into broad categories. Use categories that make sense to you and your family, such as bills to pay, tax documents, medical, home, auto, etc. Or simply organize statements and receipts by month.

  • Decide what you really need to keep. At Major Organizers, we call this process ‘treasuring,’ which means the act of separating the important items from the junk. Some categories of paper treasures include:

    • Personal information papers that pertain to who you are and where you come from, such as birth and marriage certificates, immigration papers, social security cards and medical history.

    • Papers pertaining to assets and liabilities – home and auto titles, bank information, and loan or mortgage information.

    • Current insurance papers.

  • Know your state’s record retention requirements. The IRS requires you to hold onto your tax return documentation for a minimum of 3 years, and longer in certain cases. Visit irs.gov for more information on record retention. Each state is different in what they require for state returns – check your state government’s website.

  • When in doubt, ask!  If you have questions about certain items you may need to keep, please consult your tax accountant or lawyer.
  • Get ahead for next year. Designate one place to collect all tax documents, such as a box, folder or binder. Create sub-folders for expenses, medical receipts and donations. Look into programs such as  www.mint.com, Quicken or Quickbooks for categorizing and tracking.

And Beyond:

  • Stop junk mail from stealing your time!  Sign up with sites such as dmachoice.org and catalogchoice.org to significantly reduce junk mail and catalog delivery to your home and office addresses.

  • Sort mail outside. Start a new habit of sorting your mail outside the home, next to your trash can and recycling bin. Only allow mail into your home that is relevant, important or actionable.

  • Challenge yourself. If you are having trouble determining which papers are important to keep, ask yourself “What is the WORST that could happen if I let this piece of paper go?” If the document is a legal document such as a birth certificate that would be difficult to recover, keep it. If the document is something that can easily be accessed online and reprinted, let it go.
  • Have a system for paper and use it consistently. We will probably never be a fully paperless world, so let’s strive to be a “less paper” society. Invest in folders and label them simply. Some examples:

    • Personal information files for each family member- including legal identification documents, medical history and other important information for each person.

    • Assets and liability folders for assets owned and money owed. Remember to keep official documents stating the closing of an account, or proving that a loan has been paid in full.

    • Keep insurance in its own set of folders – personal, medical, home, auto, boat, etc.

    • Color code if it helps – personal information folders in red, medical in blue, assets and liability in green and so forth.  Alphabetical filing is universally recognized.

  • Clearly mark files and keep your system intuitive to navigate. Imagine if a loved one had to come in an emergency situation and find pertinent information in your files. Could they do it with the system you’ve set up?

  • Use technology. Major Organizers recommend apps like  Evernote and Genius Scan for clients wanting to move their paper to the cloud.

  • Shred and recycle all non-important papers. These include newspapers and magazines, instruction manuals. Remember, 80% of the information we file we never look at again.

  • Set a regular time in your calendar to go through and purge your filing system. A great time to revisit your files is at the start of the year, when you are beginning to gather documents for tax season.

With a little planning and a few file folders, your papers don’t have to be so taxing. (See what we did there?)