I don’t know about you, but my social worker brain hurts during tax season.
Raise your hand if you feel me. Raise it high.
Doing taxes is just not my jam. A few minutes of reading IRS code, and I’m like:
Fortunately for me, my wife Jen pushed us across the tax-filing finish line again this year.
But what about next year? I know I can make it more manageable by taking action now.
You’re probably thinking: “I’ve got all year to not think about my taxes.”
It’s tempting, but I recommend you fight tax-prep procrastination and keep reading. (I’ve previously written about my challenges with procrastination.)
I reached out to my accountant buddy Pete over at The Smarter Dollar for some advice.
I asked Pete what suggestions he would give social workers to have a better experience during tax season. A major part of having a less painful tax season is staying organized throughout the year.
In this article, I’m going to summarize some of the advice he gave me and share a few tips and tools I’ve found to help us all get better organized.
Tip#1: Keep A Copy of Every Receipt
Keep a copy of all receipts you get for business-related purchases especially if they will be unreimbursed by your employer. This is useful for itemizing deductible expenses, but it also helps you develop a better habit of tracking your expenses in general.
A few examples from TaxSlayer of deductible expenses include:
- Dues to professional organizations (i.e. NASW)
- Job search expenses in your present occupation
- Subscriptions to professional journals (i.e. Clinical Social Work Journal)
Saving a digital copy of printed receipts is simple and I prefer it to stacks of paper.
You can create a photo album on your phone. For example:
On an iPhone go to Photos> Albums > press + >Create New Album. Name it Receipts.
After making a purchase, take a picture of the receipt and save it to the folder.
You can also get fancier by using an app called Expensify. Take a picture of your receipt, categorize the receipt, and you’re done.
The awesome part is that you can export your saved receipts from Expensify to a spreadsheet to make it easier to itemize.
Tip #2: Keep All Digital Receipts In One Place
If you are like me, many of your purchases come in the form of an email. You can make finding the receipt much faster when it comes time to itemize if all your receipts are in one place.
One strategy is to create a folder within your email service provider where you put all of your receipts.
In Gmail: go to Settings > Labels > Create Labels (note: folders=labels in Gmail). Name the label Receipts. Put every emailed receipt in this folder every time you get one.
Tip #3: Track Your Mileage
Lots of social work happens in the community. Several years ago (pre-iPhone days), I did 100% field-based work driving my personal car all over Alabama to work with clients.
One of my least favorite chores was using pen and paper to track my mileage from Point A to Point B to Point C back to Point A. I remember thinking that there needs to be a way to automatically log and report my mileage.
Enter Mile IQ:
Mind. Blown. I’ve only used the free version, but the mileage tracking is extremely accurate. The exporting of reports is such a timesaver too. #winning😎
Tip #4: Track Charitable Donations
At Social Worker Success, we’ve been working to simplify our lives and declutter our home and office. One way we have done that is by donating stuff we haven’t used in the last 12 months. Our donation receipts used to be tucked away in random places all over our home and we’d have to hunt them down every spring.
I recently discovered the app ItsDeductible. And let me tell you, it’s a big timesaver.
Besides keeping a list of all donations in one place, ItsDeductible provides accurate estimated values of items depending on their condition. Awesome sauce.
Tip #5: File It Yourself
A big tax preparation decision you have is:
Should you hire someone or knock out this unpleasant task yourself?
If your situation is complex, hiring a certified public accountant (CPA*) may make sense. Examples of complex would be:
- Owning your own business
- Owning rental property
- Owning multiple forms of investments
If that’s not you, then it’s hard to justify hiring out tax preparation and filing.
In short, Pete’s advice is,
*Note: We hired a CPA a few years ago, but didn’t have a great experience, so we’re back to filing them on our own.
Tip #6: Use Tax Preparation Software
You may be a little dubious of the big tax prep companies after reading about their fight to keep the tax code complicated.
I’d love for taxes to be much more simple, but we are not there yet. In the meantime, I suggest you don’t try to be a hero and do your taxes longhand. Spend the $80-ish and purchase software to make the filing much, much faster.
I’ve only ever used TurboTax, but other options exist.
A sizable portion of social workers make less than $62,000. If that’s you, I would at least take a look at Free File, free software from the IRS.
Check out this helpful video:
Using tax prep software decreases the likelihood that you will miss out on getting your full refund.
A good social worker is going to have their office, resources, and charts organized. We should have the same attention to detail with our taxes. Tax season doesn’t have to be so painful.
If you apply the tips and use the tools suggested in today’s post, next year’s filing season might just be enjoyable. Maybe.
Did I miss any Captain Obvious tips or tools you use during tax season? Leave me a comment below or tell me about it on the Social Worker Success Facebook page.
P.S. Keep in mind, Social Worker Success is run by a social worker; when in doubt about your taxes, talk to a tax professional. Also, Social Worker Success is not affiliated with any of the products suggested above.