…and tips on how to do it.
The IRS may have granted us a reprieve for filing our income taxes this year, but we hope you’re well into your preparation for 2020 income taxes – or finished with them. Tax planning shouldn’t be a task on your to-do list every April. It should start January 1.
You won’t know what legislation Congress will pass before December 31 that will affect your taxes, but the planning and recordkeeping you do throughout the year will help minimize last-minute panic and frustration. It can also reduce your total tax obligation.
There are other reasons why you should treat tax preparation as a part of your overall financial planning. As the year progresses and you monitor your income and expenses, you can make adjustments that will have impact on your tax bill.
If you’re filing an individual return, you need to learn how major life events like marriage, children, unexpected unemployment, a new side gig, or a change in home ownership will affect you, and how to adjust accordingly. If you have a small business, this attention to money in and money out is even more critical. You don’t want to come to the end of the year and discover that your income is significantly higher than the total of your expenses, and you haven’t paid nearly enough in estimated taxes.
If you’re starting a new side gig or sole proprietorship in 2021, you’ll be filing an IRS Schedule C along with your Form 1040 (above image from 2020 Schedule C).
Waiting until the last minute is unwise for other reasons. For example, you may learn that you’re missing critical documents like receipts and official tax forms from employers. Further, what happens if an emergency comes up in early April and you’re unable to finish? Yes, you can file for an extension, but that also requires that paperwork and possibly a payment be submitted by the deadline.
Year-round tax planning gives you the opportunity to control what you can while anticipating what could happen. Sometimes, tax legislation comes early in the year, like the American Rescue Plan did in 2021. You probably already know how that will affect your 2021 taxes. If you’re conscientious about your bookkeeping throughout the year, you’ll be in a better position to gauge how both tax law changes and your own unfolding financial situation might alter your tax obligation.
Here’s the best answer we can give you to that question: Treat every day like it’s April 14. You don’t have to scrutinize every single expense and determine its tax implications (though you should, for major purchases), but there are a number of ways you can prepare.
Consider using a financial software program or website, or at least Excel. If you’re filing individually, you can start tracking your income and expenses in a free service like Mint or pay to use, for example, Quicken or Simplifi. These applications allow you to import transactions from your financial institutions, categorize them so you know what is tax-related, and run reports that can help you in your tax preparation.
Develop a manual system for organizing your taxes. If you don’t want to go digital, visit an office supply store and invest in suitable paper or a ledger book, file folders, and anything else that you can dedicate to only tax-related documentation. Keep all receipts in one place.
Keep abreast of tax legislation. Tax law changes are reported in newspapers and magazines, on websites, and on television news. Pay close attention, especially to those that will affect you.
Change your withholding if necessary. If you’re a W-2 employee and you’re getting large refunds, talk to a benefits representative at your company about changing the number of allowances you claim. Refunds are nice, but you could be putting that money to use yourself during the year.
Look at IRS tax forms. If you’re taking on a side gig or starting your own small business as a sole proprietor in 2021, you’re going to want to acquaint yourself with the IRS Schedule C. You can look at the 2020 version now to see what information you’ll have to supply. Pay close attention to the types of expenses that are deductible and track them carefully. You might even look at the instructions.
Consult with a professional. This is an especially good idea if you’re starting a new business this year and/or you’ve experienced life changes that could affect your taxes. We can help you come up with a plan to prepare for tax filing throughout the year. With that in hand, we’d also be happy to do your tax preparation for you when the time comes. Contact us, and we’ll schedule some time to meet.