Tax season means lots and lots of paper for most people. Between the start of the new year and April 15th, everyone is collecting their paper documents: statements, receipts, investment forms, medical expenses, W-2s, pay stubs, and other tax documentation. By the end of it, you’re stuck with piles and piles of paper on your desk, your accountant’s desk, or, most likely, your kitchen table.
What if I told you there was a better way? Cue infomercial music!
Evernote makes it really easy to collect all of the paper and digital documents you need come tax season. With these four simple steps, you can use Evernote to streamline your entire tax preparation process and use that kitchen table for family dinners instead of filling out your tax return.
Step One: Scan your paper
Evernote makes it really easy to organize a large collection of PDF documents. Most banks and other financial institutions will allow you to download statements as PDFs, and it’s remarkably easy to turn paper documents in PDFs with just your smartphone.
Evernote’s mobile apps [iOS, Android] have a built-in camera that can automatically detect paper documents and take the best possible picture. The results are impressive, and generally indiscernible from "proper" scans. Evernote also makes a stand-alone camera app called Scannable. Scannable’s features have been folded into the iPhone version of the Evernote app, so it’s uncertain if Scannable will be updated in the future.
Other awesome scanning apps that integrate with Evernote: DocScanner [iOS, Android], Scanner Pro [iPad], Microsoft Office Lens [iOS, Android]
If you have a lot of documents, you might benefit from getting a real, physical scanner. Evernote sells a $500 scanner that is an absolute beast: it will scan paper of any size and automatically categorize it in your Evernote according to the type of document. If you’re the kind of person who needs to scan dozens of receipts, statements, and expense reports every week, it might be worth getting.
We’re also fans of Doxie’s line of affordable and portable scanners. They’re much cheaper (ranging from $159 to $229) than Evernote’s offering and don’t take up a lot of space.
More tax tips from PolicyGenius:
- Self-employment taxes for beginners: a brief overview
- Save hundreds on your taxes by contributing to an IRA
- Does the Affordable Care Act impact your taxes?
Step Two: Collect your digital documents
Like we said earlier, most banks and financial institutions allow users to download statements as a PDF. Other institutions will let you go paperless: your cell phone provider, cable company, and utility company, to name a few.
If you’re diligent, you can download all of your PDF statements and bills manually and add them to Evernote by yourself. You can even use Evernote reminders to let you know when PDFs are available every month, guaranteeing that you don’t forget a single one.
What about digital receipts? Evernote makes it easy to save emails to your notebooks. Just find your Evernote email address and forward the receipt to your notebooks.
If you don’t want to spend a ton of time collecting digital or paper documents, there are services that you can pay to do it for you. Shoeboxed can hook up with your Gmail account and collect all those digital receipts for you. They also have "magic envelopes" that you can stuff full of your paper documents and send to them. They’ll scan those papers and categorize them for you. While Shoeboxed has their own software, they’ll also sync everything with Evernote if you prefer.
FileThis is a similar service, but it goes one step further. FileThis will actually connect to your bank accounts, investment accounts, and other online services and automatically download your statements. If you trust FileThis to connect to your bank accounts, it can be a huge timesaver.
Step Three: Tag everything
Tagging is what makes Evernote better than just keeping a collection of PDFs in your Dropbox. You can tag Evernote documents with just about anything: "bank statement," "2015 taxes," "receipts from Starbucks." Tags make it super easy to file away documents and then easily pull them up months or years later.
Of course, tagging is only as good as the effort you put into it. You need to come up with a system and stick with it, otherwise your documents are as good as lost. If you’re super organized, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if this already sounds like a daunting task, you might want to stick to just a few tags for the major categories. "Receipts," "statements," "business expenses," for example.
If you spring for Evernote Premium, you can actually search within PDF documents. Want to know exactly how many boxes of pens you bought last year? Just search "pens" and you’ll see every receipt with the word "pens" on it, regardless of whether or not you’ve tagged it. Thought we still suggest tagging things, Evernote’s PDF search capabilities can provide a great safety net so nothing falls through the cracks.
More productivity tips from PolicyGenius:
- How to make Evernote work for you
- Which personal organization app is right for you?
- Which money management app is right for you?
Step Four: Share
It’s really easy to share notes and entire notebooks from Evernote. Want you and your spouse to put all of your important tax documents in one place? Just create a shared Evernote notebook and get started. And if you have an accountant or a tax preparer, it’s easy to share your notes with them even if they don’t use Evernote.
And if you need to send the documents to someone who hates Evernote and technology in general, you can export the files out of Evernote and send them as regular PDFs.
Get your ducks in a row!
It’s never too late to prepare for next year’s tax season. If you don’t already have an Evernote account, sign up today and start getting your ducks in a row.
Have more tips on how to use Evernote to streamline your taxes? Leave us a comment below!
Illustration by CALI