prepare for taxesTax season has come and gone. The forms, the paperwork and all the worksheets are closed for another year. Before you forget the words “income taxes” for another 9 months (and before you put the tax folder in the box for the next 7 years), stop and think: “what could I be doing to make this all easier?”

For most of us, income taxes are a major annoyance, but the overall stress or frustration is usually unnecessary. In fact, I’ve found that organizing and proactively thinking about my tax issues throughout the year saves me a great deal of tax pain every April.

I’d expect paying taxes to be painful, but if it is the process that eating away at your ch’i, you might want to consider one of these suggestions below.

Store New Tax Information Throughout the Year

How much of your stress is related to disorganization? I remember frantically tearing my office apart one year because I couldn’t locate my W2 and it was April 14th. Luckily, I never threw important pieces of mail away, but massive piles of mail in several locations didn’t help the process.

These days, I’m organized. I have a plain, old tax folder that sits on the desk next to the checkbook. Whenever I receive a piece of mail that I need for tax purposes, it goes into the folder until I go to prepare my taxes. No digging up the old stock sale records – it’s all in the same folder. In one year, I spend a few minutes at a time putting these things in the folder and save hours of stress looking for them later.

Keep Your Taxes Handy

The new trend in IRS auditing is to heavily rely on computers to find problems with tax returns. Sadly, this means more notifications from the IRS even if you filled out your taxes correctly. Since taxes are often subjective (thanks to tax law), machines are better at finding questionable things than actual errors.

It means that now more than ever, you want to keep your tax information in an easily accessible place. More than that, you need to make sure you’ve printed out all your necessary tax information. Often tax forms let your report expenses and costs without requiring you to submit that documentation to the IRS. Make sure you aren’t just writing these figures down on a napkin. If you don’t have hard copies at the time you file, make sure you put them together before you’ve moved on to the next tax season.

Get a Tax Preparer

Most people don’t realize it, but they are wasting their money on expensive tax programs. Often, a tax preparer is as much or only slightly more than software. My tax stress went down dramatically when I started using a tax preparer who charges a flat $50, thus saving myself the hassle of preparing my taxes and saving $5 on the Turbo Tax program. If you find yourself talking to the IRS year after year, that $50 might save you a fortune in time and hassle.

I know that a tax preparer is not going to be the right choice for everyone, but in my case, with the complexity my taxes have reached, it’s a good $50 spent.

Where Can You Improve?

This might sound strange, but the confusion that makes taxes so frustrating often gives tax filers the opportunity to save on taxes by changing behavior. For example, the Saver’s Tax Credit gives a tax deduction for low income and middle income families that put money in a retirement account. Finally starting your retirement savings this year can mean more money at tax time.

It could take several articles to discuss all the possibilities. It might be time to look at them and decide if there are any changes that can be made in your life so you pay less in  taxes.

Now that tax season is over, it’s easy to forget about taxes for the next nine months. However, if you wait until December, you are going to find that many of the tips above will be useless unless you make plans now. Most of these tips take only a little bit of time or effort, but they can have large impacts on your refund and tax preparation.

Start now, because the year will be over before you know it.