This is the time of year when most of us are beginning to think about (or are dreading) the process of dealing with our personal income taxes. In spite of the urge to get it over with as quickly as possible, just as with making a quilt, it is important that you start with a plan and all of the right “materials”.
If you have your return prepared by a tax professional, you may already have a plan available to you. It is generally called an “organizer” because it is designed to help you with the process of getting your information together.
The organizer lists each item of income and expense from your prior year (2008, in this case) tax return. It is designed as an outline, or a “pattern”, for you to follow. When an item is received (W-2 from employer, for example), check it off and put it in a large manila envelope destined for delivery to your tax professional. Flag pages with items still missing with a Post-it. If you did your own return last year, you can use it as the organizer.
Okay, you’ve got a plan! Now, about those materials….
Unlike making a quilt, you can’t control just when you will have all of the materials needed for your tax return. No quick trip to the fabric store or climb to the fabric box in the attic will take care of this.
The information for your tax return will largely be provided by outside sources. It will arrive by snail mail on a maddeningly sporadic basis, hiding out among the bills, catalogues, and various items of junk mail.
The important thing here is to restrain yourself from handing that large manila envelope over to your tax professional before you have the majority of your materials. While you don’t want to wait until the last minute to provide your information, neither do you want to deliver it one piece at a time. Keep track of any missing information so you can continue to prod the responsible parties if necessary.
It’s like not taking the time to accurately assemble and measure the pieces for a quilt before sewing them together – you may wind up with a bit of a mess if you don’t.
Nobody (well, almost nobody) really likes having to deal with income taxes, but do yourself a favor and put in the time and effort to do it right. Many an IRS notice and amended tax return has been generated because some piece of information was not included in a tax return.
And remember the old proverb — “haste makes waste”.