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You may be starting at a heap of paperwork when you finish filing your 2021 federal taxes, which are due April 18. Your first urge may be to sweep them all into a paper bag and put the bag under a stairwell. Don’t do that. Instead, keep only the records you need to keep. And that starts with sorting them out.
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Try to stay tidy
Neat, complete, well-organized financial files speed the process of filing your tax return and can keep you from making errors. Maintaining some semblance of order after you've filed your return — rather than tossing it into a file cabinet or shoebox — will come in handy if the Internal Revenue Service has questions about your form.
"The biggest blunder is not being organized about what records ought to be kept,” says Neal Stern, CPA, a member of the American Institute of CPAs’ National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “There are people who somehow believe that they should keep all of their paperwork, but they don't think through what the important paperwork is that should be kept or how it should be kept or how it should be organized."
People who keep too many financial papers often struggle just as much to find needed documents as those who don't keep any files. “They end up having drawers full of old papers,” Stern says. “It's not much better than not having the paperwork if you can't figure out what you have and where it is.”
What to keep
For an individual tax return, you'll need to save anything that supports the figures you entered on your return. You should keep the W-2 and 1099 forms you get from employers, for example, as well as any 1099-B or 1099-INT tax documents from banks, brokerages and other investment firms.
If you lost your job last year and received unemployment benefits from the government, be sure to keep your 1099-G form, which reports the amount you have received. The government is gave a tax exemption of up to $10,200 of unemployment income ($20,400 for married couples filing jointly) received in the 2020 tax year, but that exemption disappears for the 2021 tax year, so you’ll owe federal income taxes on the entire amount.
If you're itemizing your deductions, keep receipts for these: credit card and other receipts, invoices, mileage logs and canceled checks. If you've bought or sold mutual fund shares, stocks or other securities, you'll need confirmation slips (or brokerage statements) that say how much you paid for the investments and how much you received when you sold them. Keep a copy of all your investments for at least three years after you have sold them.