Tag Archives: taxes

Using Evernote to prepare for tax season

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.

Economics

I’ve never gotten economics. It’s one of those subjects which my simple brain isn’t designed to handle. Economists are like mystics in my mind. I mention this as a preface to what follows because you have to know where I’m coming from. Yes, I took an economics class back in college. No, I didn’t do well in it. (D+ and that was after reading the text book cover-to-cover and attending every lecture.)

I am confused by the new tax deal. Or perhaps, more accurately, I am confused by the motives behind it. From what I do understand, it extends the tax cuts put in place by Bush for another 2 years. It extends those tax cuts for everyone, regardless of how much money you make. Taxes aren’t going down for anyone, they are just not going back up to where they were. Presumably, this means that people will have more money in their paychecks than they would have if the bill was not passed.

So here are my thoughts on these economic matters:

  1. Save, spend, or…? What is it exactly that we are supposed to do with this “extra” money that we will have in 2011? I realize that we can do with it whatever we want, but certainly the federal government had something in mind. My guess is that we are supposed to spend this money and therefore further stimulate the economy. But according to the folks at CreditCards.com, the average American household carries $15,788 in credit card debt at an average interest rate of 14.35%. So wouldn’t it make sense to pay down some of that debt, as opposed to save or spent the “extra” money? Getting rid of that debt at those high interest rates could ultimately result in more money in each paycheck, since a big hunk of it wouldn’t be going to credit debt, right?
  2. Allowing the tax cuts to expire isn’t really a tax increase. I understand that politics is all about framing the issue and those supporting the new tax deal have made it clear that a vote against it is a vote for tax increases. But strictly speaking, it is not a tax increase, but merely restoring income taxes to the levels they were at prior to Bush cutting them. Do people really believe that taxes can continue to be cut without ever going up?
  3. Corporations and governments face budget cuts, why not people? If the tax bill did not pass, people’s taxes would go up next year meaning they would have less money in their paycheck than they had this year. Another way to look at this is a budget cut. Families have budgets (or should, it seems to me). Knowing ahead of time that you’ll have less money to spend in the coming year is like knowing that your budget is going to be cut, and people can (or should) plan accordingly. The problem is, I think, people don’t want to cut their spending in proportion to the money they take home. They don’t want to switch to a cheaper data plan, or cancel cable television for the year, or put off buying the new flat panel TV. In short, people don’t want to–
  4. Make sacrifices. Despite phrases like “tough economic times” and “worst economy since the great depression”, people don’t seem to want to make sacrifices in the style of living they have become accustomed to. People don’t want to make cuts in things like cable, or televisions, or iPads or new cars. People generally seem unwilling to make these sacrifices. But if you go without a vacation for the year; or if you put off buying a new car; or if you stop buying name brands for the year, those savings can add up. Sure, you make a sacrifice, but presumably, so is everyone else and the money that could have been used to maintain the tax cuts can be used for things like paying down the debt and improving government services–like education, for instance.
  5. But what about people who are already at their limit? If the tax bill didn’t pass, there would many people who wouldn’t be able to pay their bills, and have nothing left to sacrifice. They wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgage, or would have to decide between paying tuition or paying for health insurance. We need to be sure that we can help those most in need but there is no easy way to do this because even people who make a lot of money will come out of the woodwork claiming, ridiculously, that they are in need, too. Perhaps an exception could be made for people in these circumstances. The sacrifices of others would allow these people to continue at a lower tax rate while everyone else’s is returned to what it was before the Bush tax cuts. But that probably isn’t realistic. People these day seem too selfish for this kind of altruism.
  6. What’s the big deal about the middle class? If I were cynical, the only important thing about the “middle class” is that they are the largest voting base out there. That is because that almost everyone thinks of themselves as middle class. (I suspect that is why subclasses evolved in the first place, so that some people will say “lower-middle” while others say “upper-middle”.) Saying that you are going to extend tax cuts to the middle class is a political way of saying you are going to extend tax cuts to just about everyone. And everyone who gets a tax cut is therefore defined as middle-class going forward, which is right where they want to be.
  7. Is this really just some kind of accepted bribery? Okay, the real cynic in me has to ask this question. Because Americans tend to be issue voters and rarely see the big picture, is an extension of the tax cut really nothing more than a bribe for votes. “I’ll let you keep an extra $3,000 dollars in your paychecks next year, if you vote for me in 2012.” And by “me” I mean anyone who voted for the bill, Democrat, Republican, or Independent. It’s a kind of quid pro quo that is accepted at face value.

The truth is–for me–I’d be fine paying more taxes next year (I won’t say “happy”) if it meant that my little boy would have a more economically sound future–and economically sound government. Because when all is said an done, this tax bill simply defers the inevitable. The government is adding to its credit card debt and since we all make up the government (“of the people, by the people, for the people”) we will eventually have to pay that debt. And if we don’t pay it our children will, or our grandchildren, or suffer the consequences. That’s not what I want to see for my little boy, and so I would have accepted a resumption of the previous tax levels with what grace I could muster, knowing that I would be helping to close the government deficit, not increase it.

But like I said, Americans generally don’t look at the big picture. We can barely think to the next paycheck let alone the next generation.

I imagine there will be people who criticize this position as typical of one party or another. (I am a life-long Democrat, but to be honest, even I am not certain what party these economic opinions of mine represent.) But in my mind, they are the most rational opinions one can hold while looking at the big picture. People may not be willing to make sacrifices for their fellow citizens. But have we gotten to the point where we are not willing to make sacrifices for our own future–and our children’s future–either?

Taxes

I have collected and completed all of the tax paperwork, and packaged it all up, neatly labeled and indexed for our account to perform her magic on.  It looks as if–for the first time in a decade or so–we’ll be getting a sizable chunk back from the Federal Government, thanks in large part to (a) various credits that go along with having a baby; and (b) the $8,000 first-time home-buyer credit and associated mortgage interest write-offs.  We did a little better on charitable donations this year, and I also had some writing income and writing expenses which can be written off.

The package goes in the mail tomorrow.

Originally published at Jamie’s Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Taxes payment and refunds

I paid my taxes last night even though they are not due until tomorrow. I decided to pay them with a credit card this year because my United Mileage Plus Visa is offering double miles on tax payments. With my payment last night I earned myself somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,200 miles which should give me enough (factoring in my planned trips) to upgrade my return flight from Europe this summer.

When I got home from work today, I had a check from the State of Maryland for $325, which represents my refund. They were supposed to Direct Deposit the check but I guess that someone got lost in the shuffle. It’s a minor annoyance because it means I have to mail the check to my bank since my bank is in Southern California.

2006 Taxes and 2007 Donations

My taxes are all done for 2006 and are being filed electronically as I write this. I predicted owing about $3,000, and as it turns out, the situation was a little better than that.

I owe $2,693 in federal taxes (and a $65 penalty for withholding too little throughout the year). That comes to a total of $2,760 or $240 less than I thought I would owe. Furthermore, I am getting a refund of $325 from the state of Maryland, which, of course I will contribute to the payment of my federal taxes. This brings my tax bill for 2006 to a grand total of $2,435, or $565 less than what I had budgeted.

Seeing as how the money was already budgeted, the $565 that I am saving on taxes is going toward my 2007 charitable contributions. I was getting ready to send a check to the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate fund at the Hayden Planetarium. I normally send $250 each year, but I was lax last year. Therefore, I am contributing the full $565 to the fund this year. As this money was not in my donations budget, it means bigger donations for those remaining places to which I donate because I have some extra money to spread among them.

Incidentally, my new tax prepared workout out just great!

Mail call

Some interesting mail today. I got two of the books I ordered, including Barry Malzberg’s Breakfast in the Ruins, which turns out to be The Engines of the Night, expanded to twice it’s original length. That’s fine since, although I’ve read Engines of the Night twice before, it is one of those rare books which receives 5-stars from me. I look forward to reading what has been added.

I got my temporary AARP card in the mail today and that sounds like a joke, but unless someone put my name in for me, it is no joke. The accompanying letter indicated that I am eligible to join the AARP and all I have to do is mail in a check for $25. Granted I have reached mid-life. But I have by no means retired! I’ll send them $25 once I retire. (Of course, by then, I’ll need to send in $250, what with inflation.)

I received the June issue of ASIMOV’S today as well.

There was an email from my tax preparer with several questions she needs answers to in order to complete my returns. For instance, while I had $650 in charitable donations last year, I listed none this year. Did I forget to include them? The truth is, no. I’m embarrassed to say that my donations this year fell far short of my goal. Mostly out of laziness too. I donated small sums here and there, but nothing worth reporting. I feel guilty about having to respond in the negative to this. My feeling is that I should be donating more and more each year. Over time, I’d like to be donating about 10% of my income to charity, but I took a step backwards in 2006 and will work to correct it this year. (What’s worse, my income went up, and I bought lots of stuff that wastes my time and contributes little else to my life–the money would have been much better spend on various charities.)

The other question was about any writing expenses I incurred in 2006. I feel that now that I have sold a story, I can legitimately write off some of my writing expenses as business expenses, but to be honest, those expenses are minimal. There is the cost of paper, which I would purchase even if I didn’t write. And there is postage which, while it adds up, still does not seem like it’s a sum worth reporting. Other than that, I can think of any other writing expenses.

Anyway, I’ll send her my answers tomorrow and will hopefully have my taxes completed soon so that I can mail out my payment to Uncle Sam.

I should have been in bed almost an hour ago. I’m finishing up the chapter that I am reading in In Memory Yet Green (through 75 pages) and then it’s lights-out!

New math?

How is that if the average tax refund this year is $2,548, I will end up owing $3,000?

Miscellaneous

Just a few miscellaneous items. The cable went out tonight for the first time since I’ve been a Comcast subscriber, which is now several months. It was out for a little more than an hour and a half, and it was mostly annoying because the Internet connection was out with it. I called Comcast and they said that a crew had already been dispatched to resolve the problem, and sure enough things are working again.

I also decided to change my return flight from Florida next weekend. I was scheduled to fly out of Orlando on Sunday morning at 7:44 AM. I would have had to been up really darn early and that’s after being out for the wedding. So I logged onto United’s website and changed my return flight. I now fly home at 1:40 PM, which means I can sleep in if I want and still have plenty of time to get to the airport.

I found the last of my papers that I need to send my tax information to my new tax person and so I’ll get all of that put together tomorrow so that I can send it out early next week.

March madness

Apparently, we have entered a phenomenon known as March Madness, as evidence by the seemingly dozens of college basketball games on in the bar last night during happy hour. People really get into this March Madness. There are these “bracket” boards all over the place and people try to guess who will end up as the final two teams to play one another when all other teams have been eliminated. There is a kind of mad, drunken obsession with these games, which perhaps explains the term itself. I just don’t get it. Basketball never seemed that exciting to me (although it’s better than football). But all of this hubbub over college games? I wouldn’t even know who to cheer for. I suppose I could cheer for Maryland, since that’s where I live. But it seems to be the better bet would be on UCLA. Granted, I didn’t got to UCLA, but I did got to UCR, and besides, UCLA, UCR, UCI, UCSB, UCSD, they are all just “annex” schools of Cal anyway, right?

I did have fun at happy hour last night, despite the basketball madness. It was a “going away” party for someone and we were there for hours. I finally ended up leaving just before 10 PM and I got home as the clock struck 11 PM.

I was up just after 8 this morning. I have a number of things to do this weekend, not the least of which is preparing all of my tax information and getting it sent out to my new tax adviser. I’m nearly 200 pages through Houdini and hoping to make some headway there as well. And I’d like to get through a few more Italian lessons this weekend if I could.

Incidentally, it’s exactly ONE WEEK from Norm and Vicky’s wedding in Orlando. I still have a few things to do in preparation for that. I leave on Wednesday and I have to get a shirt pressed. On second thought, I’ll probably just buy a new shirt. My neck size has grown some in the last few months and those 15-1/2 next sized shirts strangle me when they are buttoned up. I think I need to move up to a 16 or 16-1/2.

Tax time

I received my “tax planner” in the mail today from my new tax person and it is something like 12 pages long. I’ll carve some time out over the weekend to fill out the tax planner and mail it back next week. It’s always a struggle starting with a new tax person. I’d used my old tax person for years and he knew exactly what to do with the stuff I sent him, without me having to fill out of bunch of extra forms. But of course, I met with him in person several years in a row back when I lived in L.A. Too bad he retired.

Various and sundry

I got a few things done today, but little work on my current project, mainly because my time was being sucked up by other things, like the tail of the recent software rollout. However, I did get a few things done today. I contacted my (potentially) new tax preparer to set up a phone call. The nice thing is that everything can be done over the phone and by email. My taxes are not complicated, but I don’t have the patience to do them, and I’d hate to make a mistake. It will be good to have it over with. I’m guessing I will owe somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000. Any more will annoy me. Any less will please me.

I scheduled Zeke for his vet appointment. He’s got to get his annual shots and that will happen on Friday morning at 9 AM. I also called to confirm reservations at the Rainbow Room Grill this Saturday evening. I took my suits to the cleaners this evening to have them cleaned and pressed, and I can pick them up after 5 PM on Thursday.

My work laptop, the hard disk of which is on the verge of dying, is being imaged tonight. I’ll have it back in the morning. The image is to test and see if the disk image can be dumped onto a new hard disk. This would prevent me from having to reinstall all of my software. The last time this happened, it took 12 hours of my time and I don’t have the time to waste doing that. Hopefully this test will go well.

I watched the latest episode of Heroes when I got home from work this evening. The show is really good. It’s a fun show to watch, always got you guessing.

I interviewed a candidate for a web developer position and have to interview another candidate tomorrow.

Friday will be a busy day, even though I have the day off. I have to take Zeke to the vet; I’ve got to get a hair cut; I’ve got to clean up the house; I’ve got to pack for my trip to NYC. Lots of little things. On the other hand, Friday is also a “leap” payday. You see, we get paid every 2 weeks. But over a period of 6 years or so, an extra “leap” week accumulates in our fiscal year. During that year, we get paid on a two week schedule as usual, except that at one point in the year, we get paid two weeks in a row, and then back to the 2 week schedule. Essentially, we get 27 paychecks instead of 26 this year.

I called Tawnya today and we talked for about an hour. I had a dream last night that we were fighting and when I called her, I joked with her, asking if she had the same dream. She thought it was funny. She is doing well and it was nice to talk to her.

I haven’t had much time for reading and so I’m still only halfway though the volume 2, issue 2 of SCIENCE FICTION AGE. I’ll get it finished soon. But I need to get back on the reading bandwagon and so I’m planning on starting Paul Levinson’s The Plot to Save Socrates tomorrow on my way into work.

Tonight is going to be another early night. I have a headache and it’s kind of settled in behind my eyes and built itself a nest made out of sharp, rough sticks of wood. I think I need to take some Advil. I’m heading to bed shortly, probably watch the latest installment of 24 and then lights out. Cardio first thing in the morning…

Lazy evening, busy day

I had a really lazy evening last night, sitting around catching up on various episodes of TV shows, when I could have been finishing up a final draft or working on one of the 4 other stories I’ve got going. The kitchen could use some cleaning too, but I chose to be lazy instead.

I did spend some time IM’ing with kruppenheimer, who has complained that she doesn’t get enough mention on my blog. But other than that, I was as lazy as can be.

One nice thing about last night: it rained for the first time in a while and at times, it rained pretty hard. It was nice to hear the sound of the rain on the roof as I was drifting off last night. It reminded me that spring is only a month away.

I have to get in touch with my new tax preparer this week. I got her name through a coworker. The guy that I used for years retired two years ago and last year I used H&R Block and really didn’t like their service. I’m estimating that I will owe about $3,000 for Federal taxes. I usually get a few hundred back from the state. Next year my taxes may be slightly more complicated, especially if I sell any more stories (optimist that I am) and hopefully this new tax person can answer questions about that.

These next three days at work are going to be busy. I have two projects that are rapidly heading to conclusion and one project on which a prototype is required by Friday. I am really looking forward to the 4-day break I will have for Norm and Vicky’s wedding beginning one month from today.