Tax Filing Tips: Here's How To Get Organized
By Vera Gibbons
NEW YORK, April 13 (Reuters) - Have you emerged yet from the mountain of receipts and financial statements you need to sort and calculate to complete your tax return? And is paper already piling up or 2012?
Americans spent an average 22 hours last year filling out tax forms. Even at the office, we spend an average 30 minutes a week hunting for paperwork, according to Brother International.
A bad organizational system - or no system - is both time-consuming and costly. Here are some apps and other tools to eliminate the paper trail and make life a little less stressful.
After Justin Esgar, of Wayne, New Jersey, launched his own app, SignMyPad - a paperless solution for his company's work tickets/order sheets - he started to look into other ways to go green.
"I saw firsthand that the technology was there and I was tired of spending money on toner and paper," he says.
Weary of managing dozens of business and personal receipts each month while on the go, Esgar recently tried two receipt trackers: Shoeboxed and Lemon. While both do the job just fine - receipts are scanned, digitized, saved and categorized - Esgar says that Lemon has the upper hand.
"It's a more robust, well versed program," he said. "Able to put more details in, it syncs with all your devices (as well as with an online account) and you can export receipts instantly."
Rachel Weingarten, a marketing strategist in New York City, is a big fan of NeatReceipts, a mobile scanner and digital filing system that helps you manage all your paperwork on your computer effortlessly. While she initially bought this scanner to help her 80-year old father manage a "lifetime of paper," she says it has become her "virtual assistant."
This slim, wand-like portable device scans your documents - whether tax records or expense reports - while the software identifies, extracts and automatically organizes it for you. All scanned documents can be searched by keyword so it's easy to find exactly what you need, when you need it.
"This little gadget has changed my life and really helped to de-clutter it," Weingarten says.
IN THE KNOW
If you're a serial networker, like Boston, Massachusetts- based investment assistant, Michelle Smith, you know how difficult - and cumbersome - it can be to manage all the new contacts you meet.
"I am always having lunch with existing clients, potential clients and meeting new people at various conferences so there's a lot of card swapping going on at all times," she says.
"You just take pictures (with your phone) of all the business cards you've collected and then the app transcribes it and automatically enters and stores it in your address book."
LOYALTY CARD SOLUTION
Do you have a big, bulky pile of plastic reward, club and membership cards dangling from your key chain? You're not alone. The average household belongs to over 18 different loyalty programs, according to Colloquy, a loyalty marketing research company.
Create scannable versions - and stay stylish - with an app such as CardStar or KeyRing.
"They're both pretty similar in that they provide a way to store functional digital versions of your cards, but KeyRing might be the overall winner because it lets you share cards with friends and pings you with offers and coupons," says Sharon Vaknin, a tech editor at CNET who has tried both.
While Mint remains one of the more popular apps for tracking your finances, budgeting and providing you with an overall financial snapshot, Jennifer Ray, a recruiting executive from Appleton, Wisconsin, says she recently made the switch to Manilla.
Ray, who manages her family finances "obsessively," says that this online bill management app - which she has downloaded to both her phone and iPad so it's interchangeable - is more comprehensive, faster, easier to use and is essentially the lifesaver she had been looking for.
"I know when all the bills are due (It downloads them for you automatically), I can easily check all the account balances, manage my 401k, my disability and life insurance, property and casualty insurance, my store cards, magazine subscriptions, mortgage and more," Ray says.
Consider using Manilla in conjunction with a budgeting software program such as YNAB (You Need A Budget), suggests Ava Sierra, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
"Manilla lets me know what bills are due when and YNAB makes sure I never go over budget," she says.
Sierra first started using YNAB - an alternative to Quicken and Microsoft Money - after paying about $1,000 in overdraft fees to her bank.
"I needed something that went beyond showing me where I was spending my money and actually helped me set it aside. It works," she added.