Making Your Taxes Simpler

Doing your taxes should not be an endless source of stress. That’s not to say that you’re going to suddenly enjoy tax season. 2019 in particular is shaping up to be a little rough, because one-third of taxpayers who owe money this year got a refund last year. It’s certainly frustrating to owe money after believing all year that you would instead get money back. But 2018 has been over for a while, and you can’t hop in a time machine to change last year’s income. You can, however, take a few key steps to make your taxes simpler. Read on for three ways to do that, both in 2019 and in upcoming years.

Store things properly

If your home feels messy and disorganized, you’ve got company. A whopping 84 percent of Americans report feeling like their living space is too chaotic. For some people, it’s not clean enough. For others, things aren’t organized enough. And then there are the people who struggle with both areas.

It’s one thing if you can’t find the bookmark for a book you were reading last night. But it’s another thing if important tax documents are now missing. You don’t want to be rummaging around in old purses or drawers for receipts come tax time. Instead, you should buy a nice set of tax folders to store your important documents there.

But don’t just leave the tax folders lying around on your coffee table, either. That’s better than nothing, but it’s not great. Put them in a safe place, ideally in a filing cabinet or on a shelf. Make sure it’s a place you won’t forget about. Write a reminder to yourself and slap it on the fridge if need be.

Talk to an accountant

It never hurts to talk to an accountant. Even a 30-minute consultation can give you an idea of what filing your taxes might look like this year. You may think you know your taxes backwards and forward, but that’s unlikely. For one thing, you (presumably) aren’t a tax accountant. Taxes are not your job.

But tax accountants deal with tax questions and quandaries more or less year-round. Sure, they’re busier in March and April. But dealing with taxes is a habit for them. You’re moonlighting as a tax preparer, and that’s fine. But a conversation or two with a tax accountant can help you avoid tax landmines that you might otherwise encounter.

Research your deductions

For some people, deductions are simply more trouble than they’re worth. They’d rather take as few as possible rather than risk the possibility that a deduction isn’t kosher. If that happens, they might just end up paying taxes on what was once a deduction anyway.

That may seem like a good idea, but it can actually be self-defeating. Sure, some tax deductions go away every year, and that’s annoying. For example, as of 2019, you can no longer deduct moving expenses. Weirdly, if you made a donation to your alma mater in exchange for tickets to the homecoming game, you also can’t deduct that.

But other deductions are alive and well, and you’d be foolish not to take advantage of them. If you’re paying off student loans, you can usually deduct at least some of the interest you’re paying. A more “traditional” degree plan like English or political science counts, but you already knew that. You might not know that less-traditional courses of study such as automotive, diesel and collision repair academic programs can also be eligible for the student loan interest deduction. A deduction like that is easy, and it’s like getting free money back. You might as well use it while it’s around.