Having been more or less paperless for the bulk of 2011, I recently had the opportunity to collect all of my tax documentation for sending along to my accountant. Despite having an accountant do the actual work of figuring out how much I owe (or the government owes me), it typically takes up several hours of my time to collect everything together. In the past, I’d keep the most important paperwork in an easy-to-access folder on a shelf near my desk. The bulk of the time was then spent tracking down things like receipts, contracts and payments for my writing-related work.
This year, I am pleased to say, it took me 15 minutes to get everything ready for my accountant.
Throughout the year, I’d been going through my process of scanning in paper each after checking the mail. For tax paperwork, I’d scan it in, tag it, and then file the originals in the same folder I’ve used all long. At the same time, I’ve also been scanning in my receipts, contracts and payments for my writing. Thus, preparing my taxes was as easy as doing a search for “taxes” and documents dated 2011. (I use the creation date of tax-related documents as the placeholder for the tax year so that I don’t have to mess with tags for dates.) The search took all of 1 second, and another 59 seconds or so to verify that I had everything I needed.
So why 15 minutes to prepare my paperwork?
Well, the other 14 minutes were spend composing the summary letter I send to my accountant each year.
My accountant also supplies me with a tax preparation worksheet, which I filled out, scanned in, and included with the package of papers I sent to her. But I also now had the ability to send her the entire package electronically. Granted, she will need some of the original documents for the actual filing, but sending them electronically allows her to get started right away. The very next day, I put the paper in the mail (and scanned my delivery confirmation slip into Evernote). She received the physical papers the next day.
Once I get my tax return from the accountant, I can put that into Evernote as well and for the first time, I will have a completely electronic record of an entire tax year, one that was collected in real time. I estimate that the time to scan in all of the tax-related documents spread throughout the year was less than 20 minutes. That means that by going paperless, I saved myself at least a couple of hours of tax preparation time in my 2011 filing. And given how busy I am and how precious little free time I have available, every little bit is worth its weight in gold.