Tax Planning

Why You Should Review Your Tax Return Before Signing Off

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • When reviewing your tax return, double-check that all income you received has been properly reported.
  • Ensure your name, social security number, and your accounting and routing number are accurate.
  • If your tax return is missing or contains inaccurate information after you signed off on it and it has already been filed, you may need to get it amended.

If you are getting ready to file your taxes, it is important to understand that as a taxpayer, you are fully liable for the information placed on your tax return once you sign off on the dotted line. Although you may have gone to a tax preparer to file on your behalf, it is still your responsibility to ensure that everything adds up correctly and that the information entered is accurate. Should you fail to do so, you could potentially face consequences with the IRS down the road. 

Here are a few ways to make sure that your tax return is accurate before sending it off to the IRS:

Double-check that all your information is on your tax return. Do not just sign off on a completed tax return, take the time to actually review the information that has been placed on it. If there is any information that is missing, especially your income, you could run into some issues with the IRS and it may also cost you more money. One of the most common errors that the IRS sees when reviewing a tax return is when a taxpayer fails to claim coverage exemption and not reconciling advance payments for the premium tax credit. When reviewing your tax return, double-check that all income you received has been properly reported. Do not include credits and deductions you don’t qualify for. If you’re in a rush to mail in your tax return, you may just forget the most important part, signing your return. You can double-check the amounts by reviewing your W2 or 1099 forms provided to you by your current or past employers. It’s also important to note that any unsigned tax return will not be processed by the IRS and will be considered invalid.

Look for incorrect information. Something else that you should check before signing off on your tax return is if your name, social security number, and your accounting and routing number are accurate. Ensuring that all your information is correct on your tax return will help you avoid any delays in your tax return and allow you to get your tax refund as quickly as possible.

Avoid having to have your tax return amended. If you realize your tax return is missing or contains inaccurate information after you signed off on it and it has already been filed, you may need to get it amended. In order to avoid raising any red flags with the IRS, make sure that you’ve provided all tax-relevant information to your preparer so they can include it on your return. In the event that you fail to provide certain information to your tax preparer, you will need to request that the tax preparer amend your tax return to include the missing information. This will not only cost you more money but also your time.    

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

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How to make a payment to the IRS

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • Taxpayers can pay the IRS directly via their savings or checking account.
  • The IRS allows taxpayers to use their debit or credit cards to make online payments. 
  • If a taxpayer is unable to pay back their tax debt, they can negotiate a payment plan with the IRS. 

If you owe the IRS, or know that you will owe after filing your taxes, you need to be aware of the options for paying back the IRS to avoid falling into collections. The IRS provides several payment options where a taxpayer can either pay the IRS right away or make arrangements to be on a monthly payment plan. 

Here are a few ways you can make payment to the IRS:

  • Pay in full from checking or savings accounts. Taxpayers have the ability to pay their tax bills in full by directly using their checking or savings account and paying online on the IRS website. You can schedule up to 30 days in advance and can cancel your payment or switch your method of payment up to two business days before your payment is taken out. 
  • Use credit or debit cards. The IRS allows taxpayers to use their debit or credit cards to make payments either online or over the phone. The IRS does not charge any hidden fees, although the convenience fees may vary depending on the type of credit card that is used. 
  • Setting up an installment agreement. If a taxpayer is unable to pay back their tax liability to the IRS, the IRS will provide the option of a monthly payment plan so they can make controlled, manageable payments until their tax debt has been satisfied. Taxpayers are required to file all required tax returns before negotiating an agreement. 

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

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How to Avoid Tax Fraud During Tax Season

man working late at night

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

  • Tax Season leaves many taxpayers vulnerable to identity theft and scammers.
  • Scammers can pose as tax preparers and steal your personal information. 
  • Protect your social security and bank information to ensure it does not end up in the wrong hands. 
  • Ask your tax preparer how you can avoid your personal information getting leaked if there is a data breach. 

Most people don’t realize how vulnerable they are to fraud during tax season.  The scary truth is that during this time of year, many identities are stolen and fraudulent tax returns are unwittingly filed on behalf of a taxpayer. In order to protect yourself, it is vital to exercise caution and provide only the documents and information that are absolutely necessary. Below are a few scams to be aware of during tax time to help avoid becoming a fraudster’s next victim.

Phone and Email Scams

The most obvious way to protect yourself against scammers is to never give out your personal information to someone you don’t know, especially over the phone. If someone from the “IRS” is attempting to contact you over the phone or by email and asks for your social security or card information, don’t give it to them. The IRS almost never contacts via phone, instead preferring to send notices via mail.  Even if you do receive a call from the IRS, they won’t ask for your social security number – they already have that information.  If you feel uncomfortable about the validity of a call, hang up and call the IRS yourself – that way you know if what they’re telling you is true.

Accountant fraud

Be wary of scammers who will pose as a tax preparer and then rip off customers through refund fraud or identity theft. These phony accountants will tell you that they can get you a large tax refund and typically prey on low-income and non-English speaking taxpayers. 

Even if you go to a legitimate tax preparer, your information can still be exposed if there is a data breach. To avoid this happening – and being left vulnerable – ask your tax preparer what more you can do to protect your information in case of a breach.

Identity theft

Make sure to protect your social security number at all costs. Identity thieves will attempt to steal this information in order to steal not only your identity but your tax refund too. As long as you notify the IRS that your information has been compromised and your refund has been stolen, the IRS will work with you to provide your refund. However, it will take extensive time and paperwork to prove that your information was stolen.

Medical Identity Theft

Financial fraud such as a stolen credit card can be frustrating but can be quickly resolved since it’s easier to detect, and often doesn’t have significant long-term financial impacts. Medical identity fraud, on the other hand, can cost a victim $13,500 on average and be notoriously difficult to resolve. Because of advancements in electronic communication and collaboration in the healthcare industry, personal health information (PHI) is more exposed and accessible. At the same time, this doesn’t always mean that your health provider is on the same page with your insurer. PHI is rarely tracked across multiple networks and this gap can make stealing and using it feasible.

In conclusion…

Tax Season is now upon us, and it’s important to protect your personal information and ensure that it can’t be compromised. Always be wary of phone calls or emails that you receive claiming to be from the IRS, especially when they’re asking for your bank information or social security number. Also, do your research when looking for a tax preparer to file your taxes for you, and make sure they have their license, as well as positive reviews from previous clients. Lastly, make sure to monitor your social security number to ensure that your data has not been breached and your identity hasn’t been stolen. 

If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

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What is the Minimum Income to File Taxes?

Do I Need to File a Federal Tax Return?

More than 43% of Americans don’t have to file a federal tax return. Are you one of them?

While the IRS expects to receive more than 150 million tax returns this year, it is estimated that nearly 43% of Americans don’t have to file a federal tax return according to the IRS.

So how are millions of Americans avoiding this tedious task? Is there minimum income to file taxes?

Do I Need to Pay Federal Income Taxes?

The recent recession had a lot to do with the fact that nearly half the country is off the hook when it comes to filing a tax return. Many people faced a drastic reduction in their earned income, and now simply do not make enough money to meet the minimum requirements to file. Additionally, President Obama teamed up with Congress to boost existing credits and create new stimulus measures which have resulted in many people qualifying for tax benefits and credits which eliminate their tax obligation entirely.

What is the Minimum Income to File Taxes?

There is a minimum income to file taxes. If you are age 64 or younger, filing as single and earned more than $10,000.00 in 2013 ($11,500.00 if age 65 or older), then you are among those who have to file a tax return with the IRS this year. If you were married at the end of 2013 and you plan on filing separate returns, you must file if you earned more than $3,900.00 in 2013.

* Is there a minimum income to file taxes for children?

These days there are more and more children working each year, oftentimes earning enough throughout the year to require that they file a return as well. This can be a complicated matter when trying to decide if the child should file a return and how that could affect their parents claiming them as dependents on their own return. Basically, a child must file a tax return if their earned income was over $6,100, however parents are still able to claim these children as dependents on their tax return if the child lived with them.

Even if you’re not required to file…

One important thing to consider is even if you are not required to file a federal tax return for 2013, you may want to still file a return as it may result in a refund owed to you. If you had income tax withheld from your paycheck or if you qualify for the EITC, additional child tax credit, health coverage tax credit, or refundable American opportunity education credit, filing a return will most likely result in the IRS sending you a refund check.

The Earned Income Tax Credit

A major tax credit that helps Americans reduce their tax liability is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC was originally approved by Congress in 1975 to help working Americans (with a low to moderate income level) keep more of what they earned. According to the TPC, about one in five tax returns (close to 28 million) that were filed in 2010 claimed the EITC, resulting in over 60 million dollars in credit to Americans. For the 2013 tax year, working families with children that have annual incomes below $37,870 to $51,567 (depending on number of children) will be eligible for the federal EITC, as well as those without children that have incomes below $14,340.

According to the IRS, about three out of four people who file a tax return this year will receive a refund. Last year taxpayers received an average refund of $2,744, and the IRS is typically able to process that refund within 3 weeks. You can get your refund from the IRS quickest by e-filing your tax return and opting to direct deposit your refund into your bank account.

Filing your annual income tax return can be a complicated and tedious task, but there are many benefits and credits available now to help reduce or even eliminate your tax liability. Even if you are not required to file a return, these tax credits can result in an unexpected refund from Uncle Sam. However, you have to file the return to receive the cash, so be sure to explore all of the available credits and deductions when preparing your return this year.

Need some help filing taxes? Optima Tax Relief offers tax consultation.

The Tax Mistake That Cost Me Thousands

Via LearnVest By Cheryl Lock ~

A tax mistake could cost you thousands. When my pay was direct-deposited into my checking account every two weeks while I was working my first full-time freelance job, I’d think, “Wow, that’s a decent amount of money. I can totally live off this!”

No one ever told me (and I never bothered to ask) why my paycheck seemed so large, so I lived it up for an entire year—eating out, going to plays, buying new clothes and taking trips. Then April rolled around: tax time. In all fairness, I knew that I hadn’t been paying freelance taxes on the money I was making as a freelancer. I just had no idea how much I actually should have been setting aside from each paycheck. I now know that I should have been saving at least 33% to 35% of every paycheck to put toward taxes. Hindsight … you know what they say.

In the end, I owed a little over $3,000. My accountant practically cried when she gave me the news—and a full-blown panic attack.

Well, it turns out that I’m not the only one befuddled by taxes—especially now that the new tax rules have been put in place.

Another Tax Mistake – a $40K Tax Mistake

In 2010, Heidi Saucedo’s husband was working in Egypt for two months. While he was away, Saucedo received an envelope from the IRS, which revealed a bill for $40,000.

“After I picked myself up off the floor, I had to contact the hubby … by Facebook chat,” she says. “Can you imagine going through all the back-and-forth required for that via chat?”

The problem was that Heidi and her husband had not filed a tax return in five years since money was tight while she stayed home with their two children. “I just didn’t understand that we could possibly owe nothing—I thought we would be charged for everything we owned,” Saucedo says. “I knew this was foolish, but we were living paycheck to paycheck, and we were too proud to ask for assistance.”

Her husband was also working under a 1099—meaning that he wasn’t a full-time employee, so he was taxed at the end of the year instead of out of every paycheck. “Apparently, I had ‘known’ this (my husband says that we discussed it), but to this day, I swear I had no clue,” Saucedo says.

After using TurboTax to figure out the tax deductions that hadn’t been included in that $40,000 bill (like standard deductions and the child tax credit), it turned out that they didn’t owe anything. “At the time, I chose not to go to a professional since the gist of the letter from the IRS was that all we needed to do was file our taxes,” Saucedo says. “I was pretty overwhelmed, and I didn’t have any money to pay a CPA, so I signed up for TurboTax.”

“The good thing was that when I began the search for anything and everything that I could get my hands on to rectify the situation,” Saucedo adds, “I realized that I love doing taxes. Never again will there be an unfiled return!”

LearnVest is the leading lifestyle and personal finance website for women.

The post The Tax Mistake That Cost Me Thousands appeared first on SuperMoney!. Need a tax attorney? Find one today with Optima Tax Relief.

How to Prepare for a Recession

A thriving economy is something all taxpayers rely on in order to purchase goods and provide for their families. That is, until the economy takes a turn and it slides into a recession.  When a recession hits, it can leave taxpayers scrambling as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives and figure out what options they have for their next move.  For many, a recession is the worst thing that could happen to them, as it could put your job is at risk, lower your wages and bring your employment growth to an abrupt stop. With current talks of a possible recession, it is a scary time for many Americans who do not know what the future holds. Here are a few tips to help prepare for a recession in order to protect yourself.

Make sure you have emergency savings

We can’t emphasize this enough! Having emergency savings can give you the cushion you need if the economy takes a downturn or if you lose your job. However, we all know accruing a large sum of money in a savings account is easier said than done. If you want to beef up your savings, there are options available to you, and getting a side gig such as driving for companies like Uber or Lyft can also help boost your savings. 

Pay down your debt

If you have credit card debt, vehicle loans, student loans, or other kinds of debt, it is important that you focus on paying this down. The faster you pay it off, the less you will have to pay in additional interest, which could prolong the amount of time you are holding onto your debt obligation. Lowering your total debt will allow you to have much more disposable income which could be placed in your savings that can be used in times of emergency or hardship.

Live within your means

The holiday season is in our midst, which means family gatherings and plenty of food. Everyone also looks forward to the holidays because of all the shopping that gets done! With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, everyone is getting ready to spend big on presents for both themselves and their family. It is important to remind yourself that you don’t want to bleed your wallet dry.  Instead, try to be cautious of the frivolous spending that is often done during this time. Regardless if you are celebrating a holiday or not, it is recommended that you set up a budget for yourself to ensure that you’re not overspending. Just doing this can help save people money – and prevent them from going further in debt.

With just a few simple adjustments to your spending habits, you can have more money in your pocket in case the economy turns south. It is important to have a savings plan in mind to prepare for worst-case scenario situations. Whether you are worried about a recession or not, you should always put money aside and these several tips will help you build a solid financial foundation regardless of how the economy is doing.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

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Tips to Help Understand and Avoid Tax Scams

Tax Scams

You’ve just received a notice from the IRS.  It indicates that, after multiple attempts to get in touch with you, they are going to levy you. You start to panic; you don’t remember the IRS ever attempting to reach out to you.  Maybe you’ve never even owed a tax liability. After calling the number on the notice, the agent on the line tells you to pay up – or face the consequences. Afraid that the IRS will levy your bank account – and possibly seize your house – you provide your payment information over the phone. You check your bank account and your entire savings are gone. You contact the number again, but the line has been disconnected. When you do get in touch with a real IRS Agent, they tell you that you never owed a balance with them in the first place.  You were just scammed.

Millions of Americans will receive communication from scammers impersonating the IRS, using scare tactics to get people to fork over their hard earned money.  These scammers will attempt to take your money by calling your personal phone, sending malicious emails, and sending fake letters like the one in the example above.  Below we will break down these different forms of communication and the different tactics they will take to gain your trust and steal your money.

One of the most common forms of tax scams is by leaving automated voicemails on your personal phone that tell you the IRS will be collecting on owed taxes or that there is a warrant for your arrest. In some cases, they will even mirror their number to make it appear similar to an actual IRS number. These fraudsters will most likely ask for cash payments sent to a temporary address or try to get you to tell them your social security number. Some may even ask for your bank account number directly in an attempt to bleed your account dry.

Sending false emails is a tactic known as “phishing.” When people click on a link in these emails, it uploads a virus that steals your sensitive information, allowing them access to your passwords, and even your bank accounts and credit cards.

Fake IRS notices are sent in an attempt to have you call the number listed on the letter.  Once they have you on the line, they bully you just so they can gain access to your personal information. The letter itself may look like it was directly sent to you by an assigned revenue officer from the IRS, and it can be difficult to tell the difference.

There are ways to protect yourself from scammers. It is important to know that the IRS will never ask for your bank account or card information over the phone, nor will they ever demand you to pay back your supposed balance immediately without first providing you with balance due notices in the mail. The IRS will also never ask you for your payment in one specific or unusual way, such as with gift cards or prepaid cards.  In addition, if the IRS is claiming that there are discrepancies on your tax return and you feel as though their claim is wrong, the IRS will allow you to provide proof your tax return is accurate. Finally, the IRS will never call you and tell you that they are going to have you arrested or sued for not paying your tax liability back to them.

It is important to always verify where the source of notices, phone calls or emails you receive are coming from. Owing the IRS can be frightening, but what’s even scarier is knowing that there are scammers preying on taxpayers, trying to steal from them. Always be cautious and aware of your tax situation and be sure to verify who you’re speaking with and where your money is going. You can contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 or you can go directly onto the IRS’s website to learn more about preventative measures to take to ensure you won’t get scammed.

Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens. To assess your tax situation and determine if you qualify for tax relief, contact us for a free consultation.

IRS Tax News: Your Home Office Deduction Just Got Simpler

One Forbes.com article claims that half of all working Americans either work for or own a small business. Of that group, 52% are home-based and use part of their homes exclusively for business purposes. This article highlights the new IRS home office deduction guidelines.

Fear of Setting Off an Audit

auditCall it consensus, rumor or just plain urban legend, but according to conventional wisdom, claiming the home office deductions is a sure-fire IRS audit trigger. In actuality, there is no concrete evidence that claiming tax breaks for working at home was any more a trigger for an audit than any other tax deduction or credit. Certainly, claiming the home office deduction would seem to be less of a red flag than, say, claiming $25,000 worth of deductions on an adjusted gross income of $30,000.

For most taxpayers, it’s more likely that a combination of factors is what actually sets off audit red flags. Perhaps it’s not so much running a business at home, but claiming deductions for a business that consistently loses money that triggers an audit. A taxpayer attempting to claim a 10-foot by 12-foot dedicated home office who lives in a two bedroom home with his wife and two children would also likely raise an auditor’s suspicions.

Even without the fear of an audit, many taxpayers were tempted to skip claiming legitimate deductions, with good reason. Calculating home office deductions prior to 2013 could be a time consuming chore. The first step was to divide the entire square footage of the home to generate a percentage of the home that was dedicated to the home office. The next step was to add all the expenses for the home, including mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities and money spent at Home Depot for home improvement. The next step involved multiplying that total by the percentage of the home devoted. Now add all that up and multiply it by the percentage of the home used for the home office. You get the picture.

New Calculations

measureThis all changed when the IRS announced new rules which provided a simpler method of calculating home office expenses beginning in the 2013 tax year. All that’s needed now is to calculate the square footage of the space devoted to the home, then multiply that figure by five and put a dollar sign in front of the result. That’s it. The simplified formula can be used for home offices measuring up to 300 square feet, which translates to a maximum $1,500 deduction.

Taxpayers still have the option of sticking with the original method, which might be advantageous under the following conditions:

  • If a home office space is greater than 300 square feet.
  • If actual home expenses are higher than the maximum deductible amount through the new method.
  • For businesses that were not profitable during the previous tax year.
  • For taxpayers who changed residences during the previous year.

On the other hand, it’s a good idea to opt for the new method ($5 per square foot) if home expense records are incomplete, or if calculating actual expenses is too cumbersome. Taxpayers who have sizable real estate and mortgage interest deductions, which they prefer to itemize fully and separately from the home office deduction should also consider utilizing the new calculation method.

Taxpayers must choose one method or the other during any particular tax year, but may change methods from one year to the next. Regardless of which method is used, the following conditions apply:

  • The home office must be used exclusively and regularly as the main place of business.
  • “Exclusive” means that the home office is used only for trade and for no other family recreational or living space.

Don’t Miss Out

If you have a home office and have not been taking advantage of allowable deductions, you have been passing up tax benefits that can lower your overall tax liability. And with the new simpler method, you no longer have to perform tedious record keeping and computations. Read more about the home office deduction on the IRS website.

free money

When Your Tax Exemption Grows Up And Gets A Job

BabyIt is inevitable that at some point children will be able to claim their own tax deductions and get big refunds. At this point, it’s time to bring out the dependency worksheet.

Parents should know that if a child makes enough money to challenge your income tax exemptions, it could add significantly to your tax obligations. In addition, some parents mistakenly believe that as long as their children are under age 24 and in college full time that they can still claim them on their tax returns. However, if a child is contributing to more than half of his/her own support, then parents can no longer claim that child as a dependent.

Let’s take a hypothetical example of 16 year old Betty. She works after school and on weekends at a sporting goods store, where she earns a minimum wage salary and a commission on sales. She is gifted in sales, so even though she is still in high school, she made $11,500 the previous year. Betty and her three sisters live with her parents and her grandmother, and qualifies as a dependent for Betty’s parents on their joint income tax return.

boyAccording to the worksheet for the dependency support test, (available in IRS Publication 501, page 16) household expenses, including groceries consumed in the home, utility bills, repairs, and the fair rental value of the house must be divided by the number of residents in the household. In this case, with a married couple, a grandparent, and four children, the household is comprised of seven people.

If the fair rental value of the home is $2500, then $357.00 person is the figure that will be applied to Betty’s support. The utility bills add up to an average of $500 per month. Divided by 7, Betty’s share is $71 every month. If groceries average $200 per week, then Betty’s share is $29 per week. Annual plumbing repairs of $840 translate to $120 per year for each person in the household. A recap of Betty’s annual household expenses is below:

  •                $4284 Fair rental value
  •                $852 Utilities
  •                $1508 Groceries
  •                $120 Plumbing repairs

This translates to $6764 for Betty’s total share of household expenses per year. Christmas presents, her share of an annual family vacation, clothing, recreation, electronics equipment, medical expenses not paid by insurance, and her insurance premiums add $12,000 to Betty’s share of total household expenses, bringing Betty’s total share of household expenses to $18,764.

teenLet’s recall Betty’s salary of $11,500. Unless her parents can prove that her earnings went to savings or investments, it will count as money spent toward her own support. As it turns out, Betty bought a car, and pays for her own insurance, which runs $300 or $400 per month. She spends an additional $10 or $11 a day on lunch or movies. Of course she wears the latest fashions, regularly downloads (legally) music from Adele, Katy Perry and Beyoncé, and has purchased the complete set of episodes for the first season of Game of Thrones. She also has an iPhone 6 Plus and a tablet. Life is large, and so is her tax refund. Meanwhile, her parents’ allowable credits and deductions have shrunk. Her parents have lost the child tax credit.

A second example considers Betty going away to college. Betty’s parents’ income has risen, but private tuition for Betty has also risen. Meanwhile, Betty pitches in by taking a part-time job while she’s enrolled in classes. Depending on how much she earns, her parents may lose the dependency exemption. If Betty qualifies as an independent student for financial aid purposes, her parents will lose the educational credit, too.

manIt’s important to remember that if you choose not to claim a child that qualifies as your dependent, the child still cannot claim the exemption for herself. To prevent tax surprises later, there should ideally be an understanding within the family before children start earning substantial salaries about establishing a savings account and other plans to minimize tax burdens for both parents and children. A good place to start is by enlisting the help of a tax professional. Contact us today to schedule a strategy session.

Things You Can Do After Tax Season To Make Next Year Easier

The best tax advice is to get an earlier start on filing income tax returns. Putting off completing your tax returns until April only increases the stress and anxiety of confronting all of the rules and regulations of the IRS. The strain of filing this year’s returns should serve as an incentive to make next year go a little smoother. To make that happen, incorporate a few organizational techniques, and aim for a goal to file your return by February next year.

mileageEspecially if you use your car frequently for business, you’ll find that the miles add up quickly.  Many taxpayers can legitimately claim the mileage deduction for their personal vehicles. However, the IRS wants a mileage diary at audit time. Many tax practitioners, afraid of accuracy penalties, are reluctant to include estimated mileage numbers on their customers’ tax returns.

The solution? Buy a small expense diary that will fit in an easy-to-reach cubby-hole near your dashboard. Attach a pen to the notebook. As soon as you buy the expense booklet, write down the mileage from the odometer, next to the date. Put the booklet and envelope in the glove box of your car.  You should also purchase a manila folder to keep by your computer.  Whether you prepare your own taxes or leave the task to a tax professional, the presence of the manila folder can remind you to either print out copies of mortgage statements or other transactions. If you receive statements or bills by mail, put them in the folder.  If there is a particular place where you empty your pockets or purse, make sure a second envelope or folder for receipts is nearby.

Your manila folder and glove compartment envelope can be used for any receipt, including prescription and over-the counter drugs or doctor receipts. Did you make a tuition payment online for your child’s college tuition? Print out a receipt right away, and stash it in the folder.

ReceiptsIf you occasionally make a purchase for your rental property, keep an envelope in the glove box to keep receipts. You can use the same envelope for gas receipts. Even though gas purchases are not deductible, gas receipts can provide substantiating evidence for mileage deduction claims. Did you take clothes or other donations to your church, or the Salvation Army?  Put the receipt you should have received in the envelope along with your gas receipts and receipts for rental purchases.  Maintaining receipts is essential in case the IRS questions your deductions.

Whenever you use the car for a deductible trip, copy down the odometer reader at the beginning and again when you return home. To cement the habit of keeping track of your mileage, copy the odometer reading every time you get in the car. Your log should include the date, the beginning odometer reading, the purpose of the trip, including names of people you’re meeting with if your trip is business related, and the ending mileage.

Once your system is in place, maintenance requires only a few seconds a day.  Writing down your mileage will become second nature. You’ll be surprised by how quickly your receipts add up as the year progresses.  And you’ll be able to look forward to a more lucrative and less stressful tax season next year!