Getting Organized for your 2016 Tax Return?

| By Alicia Sisk-Morris, CPA, ME |

It’s that time of year. Holiday decorations are being packed away, New Year’s resolutions have been made, and now it’s time to keep a watchful eye towards our mail box awaiting those year-end tax documents to arrive. During this month they will arrive one by one but what do you do with them? How best to organize your documents? Here’s a step by step approach to year-end tax organization.

Alicia Sisk-Morris. Photo: Cat Ford-Coates, Studio 828

1) Get your hands on a tax organizer. Many tax professionals, myself included, provide each of their clients this organizer every year. In the digital age, they will likely arrive at you by email, but they can also arrive by mail. These organizers will show your information from last year and will lead you on a path to remembering all of the documents you need to locate. For a free tax planner visit my website: and download one right from the site.

2) Pick a place to work: Find a spot in your home or office where there is plenty of room to spread out all your documents. Many folks use their home offices, and some find the dining room table is a great spot to spread out.

3) Purchase a 6 or 12 tab plastic folder organizer and label the outside of it with the tax year. You should label each of the tabs by categories you use, such as: W2s, 1099s Int or 1099 Div (banks and brokerage statements), Health Insurance 1095, Itemized Deductions (charitable giving, 1098 mortgage statement, medical expenses, and property tax), education deductions/1099T/ loan interest, Business Income, Business deductions etc. Some of my clients find color coding their documents another way to help them be organized. Your finished tax return will be placed in this folder once it is completed. Now all documents will be in one spot for future reference.

4) Review your documents: Make sure you have all of your W2, 1099, and 1098s. You should receive these by January 31st.

5) Pull out your receipts and Credit Card Statements: If you have deductible expenses or donations make sure you have your receipts and statements highlighted and organized and summarized by each category. The more organized you are, the easier and faster it will be to get your tax return prepared.

6) Retirement contributions: You will receive year-end statements showing how much you contributed to your 401 (k) plan, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, and SEP IRAs. Keep those statements to ensure the retirement deduction is made. If you have additional funds that are available for retirement contribution to an IRA, make sure you tell your tax preparer so they can calculate the tax savings for you. You have until April 15th to put those funds in your IRA account.

7) Health Insurance/ Affordable Care Act or Obama Care: Regardless of what type of health insurance you have, your carrier will send you a year-end summary indicating who is on the plan and what months you are covered. This document (Form 1095) is now a crucial component to everyone’s tax return.

8) Business Income and Expenses: If you are partially or full time self-employed you will need to close out your year-end books. Your tax preparer will need to know your total income along with total expenses for your business. If you use tax software like QuickBooks, I suggest you print out Income Statements and Balance Sheets. You can also backup your QuickBooks files to a thumb drive to pass along to the CPA.

9) Organize Your Questions: Time is short during tax season for all tax preparers. Make a list of all the issues or questions you have and ask your tax provider at one time so that we can help you as efficiently as possible.

10) Call your CPA and make an appointment: Once you are all organized now is the time to get your documents to your tax professional. The sooner you get your information to them the sooner you will file your return.

Remember, it is easier to organize your taxes throughout the year instead of preparing them a week before they are due. You can begin to set up your 2017 files now so that your 2017 tax time doesn’t have to be stressful. Being organized helps you to be ahead of the time crunch.

Alicia Sisk-Morris is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with over 20 years’ experience with offices in Asheville and Weaverville, NC. Her firm services individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit clients as they seek to make—and keep—more money. Additionally, Alicia is an instructor for Asheville-Buncombe Technical College, Small Business Administration workshops, and the Western Women’s Business Center, as well as an accomplished public speaker and trainer. Besides her CPA credential, Alicia holds an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and a Master of Entrepreneurship Degree from Western Carolina University, where she was a Jacob Spencer Medford Scholar, a WCU Distance Graduate Scholar, and honored as the Outstanding Master of Entrepreneurship Student of the Year award recipient. Learn more at:

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker