Minding The Money

As we turn the calendar to a new year it’s time to start thinking about everyones favorite topic – taxes!  Wait, you don’t like working on your taxes?  You aren’t sure where to start?  You have no idea where to turn?
Let me give you a very very very simple place to start.  Grab a folder.  It can be any kind of folder – a binder, a manila envelope or a simple file folder (like I used, pictured above).  Label it for 2010 Taxes.  Simple.  These are taxes for the year 2010 that you will file in 2011. 
On the front of the envelope or folder make a list of all the tax documents you THINK you need for this year.  This should include (but is not limited to):
Income
W2 forms from your employers
1099 Forms for wages
1099 Forms for interest income for each and every financial institution where you have an interest-bearing account (any savings account)
Taxes Paid
Real Estate Taxes (property taxes on your house)
Vehicle Ownership Taxes on all vehicles (not sure if all states allow you to deduct these but mine does – you can find the amount on your car registration in your glove box)
Taxes Refunded
You Tax Return from last year.  If you received a tax refund from your state for year 2009, you have to claim that income in 2010.
Deductible Interest
Mortgage Interest statements from all mortgage companies you had a loan with in 2010
Student Loan Interest
Deductions
Child care expenses
Write all of these expected forms on your folder.  As each form arrives in the mail or in your email put a hard copy in the folder and put a check mark next to the item so you know you’ve received it.  If you get something that wasn’t on your original list, add it to the folder and write it on the front (checked as received) so you remember to include it when you are filing.
This simple task should take you about 5 minutes right now.  And about 1 minute each time a new document arrives.  But it will save you hours when you are finally ready to file.  If you file by yourself (either long-hand or electronically) you’ll be glad everything is in one place.  And if you use a tax professional, he or she will thank you for being so ready to go.
Before we go, let me clear up one thing.  Many of you know this and will wonder why I’m saying it.  Many more of you will wonder how you didn’t know this before.
A tax RETURN is a form you file with the IRS stating your income, deductions & credits from the prior year.  This is something like a Form 1040.  It is NOT the money the government “returns” to you that you overpaid from the prior year.  That is a tax REFUND
Also, if you owe the government $3000 on your tax return you did not pay $3000 in taxes.  You really paid something much more – specifically, whatever was withheld over the course of the year PLUS the $3000 you still owe.
Your tax liability is your tax liability based on your income, deductions and credits.  Whether you choose to pay that through withholdings out of your paycheck or as an additional amount owed on your return doesn’t change the liability (penalties for not paying notwithstanding).  If you owe $3000 it’s because you underpaid out of your withholdings.  If you get a $3000 refund it’s because you overpaid out of your withholdings.  It’s not like winning the lottery.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to convey specific accounting advice.  Suzanne is not a tax professional and does not want to be one.  Please speak to a competent licensed CPA for answers to questions about your specific situation.