How to Get a Head Start on Tax Season
Put in place this ADHD-friendly system for organizing bills and financial papers and you’ll be ready for this tax season — and all those that follow.
Orderly record keeping may not be the most interesting project for an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to undertake, but I’ve learned, through hard experience, that it has to be done. With tax time upon us, it’s even more important than ever to get a head start on personal filing.
Here is my method for dealing with financial files.
I use twelve folders, one for each month. The December folder is red. After the January bills have been paid, I pull the contents of the other 11 folders and arrange them together according to the tax schedule for which they are required, then put them in them in the December folder. When I am ready to start the tax returns, everything is right where it needs to be — in one place and readily accessed.
I keep a copy of the prior year’s tax return with the December folder so that I can refer to it when preparing the next year’s tax returns. The copy and the “proof” documents are kept in a two-drawer file cabinet that is the base under a lawyer’s bookcase.
For the other documents I need to keep, I create folders marked by category. We place sensitive documents (deeds, birth and marriage certificates, stock certificates, bonds, etc.) in a safe as soon as they are received. It’s hard to believe the hassle involved when a bond is lost. Although the originals reside in the safe, I keep copies of bonds in a notebook binder (in sheet protectors with a top opening). Original insurance policies are in the safe as well, but copies of the declarations pages are kept in the notebook.
Because I have three medical insurers, I have one Pendaflex folder with “Medical” on the tab holding three file folders, one for each carrier. When claims have been processed and the balance due (if any) has been paid, I copy the final bill and attach it to the benefits form. The original medical bill is placed in the folder for the month in which it was paid.
Appliance and equipment warranties are kept in another notebook. As an appliance is removed from the household, its warranty papers go with it. If the item is given away, the new owner will want information about replacements parts, right?
Project folders are labeled and placed in hanging folders in the file cabinet. These are filed with the monthly folders for easy access. Right now, these include my church, the local senior center, fire department auxiliary, women’s club, and my personal projects. We have pets, so we keep their inoculation and other records in a folder labeled “Pets.”
Projects for which I will need further information, such as protesting a bill, are kept in the “Pending” folder at the front of the file box. I place a note about follow-up on it in my Day-Timer.
A “What My Family Should Know” folder is kept in the front of the file box. It contains a complete list of the location of wills, insurance polices, and such that might be needed if something happened to my husband or me.
I strove for a system that would work easily, require little maintenance, and could be used by my husband if I were not here to handle it. My “File Box” is one of those milk crates made of plastic that can be found at Wal-Mart or Kmart. Mine is set up for hanging folders.
I do bill-paying, tax preparation, and account management for clients, so each client has a file setup like mine, but two or three clients’ records are kept in each milk crate. My hanging folders and file folder inserts are yellow. Each client’s hanging folders have matching colors. Anything misfiled is spotted immediately and the folder can be moved to its spot. Right now, including my personal folders and my client’s records, I am using four milk crates. My husband built a rolling cover that rolls across the top, so I have an additional work surface in the office. I roll it out of the way when I need to access the crates, which sit on the floor.
What sort of reward can you give yourself for getting that filing done? (I treated myself to a new software program.) Yes, you are bribing yourself to do something that needs to be done anyway, but those of us with ADHD can often focus better when there is a “carrot at the end of the stick.” I suggest placing this article on your “Must Be Done” list.