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tax office

Taxes and Investing

How Long Should You Keep Your Records and Tax Return

A common question around the office involves records retention. Many people think they need to keep their tax returns for seven years, others think it is three; both are wrong.

Tax returns are not the only records you need to consider when building a record retention policy in your business and personal life. Some items can safely be disposed after one year; some items need to be kept forever—your estate can handle disposal.

Record retention in the past required filing cabinets filled with papers. The filing cabinets can be—and should be—replaced by digital storage. A fire, theft or weather damage put irreplaceable documents at risk when stored in a filing cabinet. A better solution is to scan all documents into a digital filing cabinet and store a backup copy offsite.

Most banks already provide digital copies of statements and your tax preparer should have no problem providing a digital copy of your return. Your tax preparer is required to provide you with a copy of your tax return and it can be a digital copy. Have your accountant email you a copy or bring a flash drive to their office. Also, many accountants have secure drop boxes built into their website now. For security reasons you may wish to use this method over less secure email. Plus, emails are easier to subpoena for court proceeding.

Security is the biggest concern when storing records. The amount of documentation held by a business is huge. Even a modest household can accumulate a serious amount of paperwork they must retain. Digitizing data is fast and simple. Security of this “fast and simple” data is important because it is just as “fast” and “easy” to steal it. Storing data at home or business should be secure behind adequate firewalls, encrypted and password protected. Offsite storage must be with a reputable firm safeguarding your data. The cost of storing data is cheaper than ever so there is no reason not to keep all required documentation and store these records safely.

Below is a handy guide for determining how long you need to keep records. I have added a few notes after some items to clarify certain requirements. It would be a good idea to bookmark this page for future reference. I list personal requirements separately from business requirements. To simplify your search I have listed items by 1 year, 3 years, 6 years, forever, and special circumstances.

It should be noted state requirements can differ from federal requirements. I follow the records retention list with special rules affecting certain states. People filing a tax return, conducting business or own property in these states will need to consider additional records retention issues.




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Never Miss a Charitable Deduction Again





The Wealthy Accountant is turning into a vibrant community. Readers share their stories helping me do my job of teaching you, kind readers, how to live a joyful life without money problems. Readers also do things your favorite accountant cannot. For example, you would never ask me anything about IT. On my best days I am dangerous when given the access codes to computer files in my office. Karen, my office manager, has a standing order with the IT firm managing all our information to never give me a pass code or access to any secure files. It’s better that way.

When it comes to taxes, the story is different. I immerse myself in taxes the way a college guy plays video games. Most tax questions are front brain answers to me and minor research for most of the rest. (Every now and again someone throws me a curve requiring serious research, but we will not talk about those times to protect the ego of the innocent accountant in the room.) Then a reader sends me a link for a website that blows my mind. John Haldi did just that.Continue reading

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Starting a Successful Seasonal Tax Preparation Business

Readers of this blog are always looking for a side hustle. Seasonal tax preparation is a perfect fit for many early retirees. A small tax preparation business allows for an earlier retirement as the side income can easily be enough to live on for even a modestly frugal person. Another large reader demographic involves the accounting industry. There are plenty of blogs talking about tax issues, but few discuss the realities of starting, promoting and maintaining a tax practice.

I touch on the subject of practice building periodically, but my email folder is filled with requests for a more detailed post. A recent email from someone called Speed (I love it!) asked a series of questions that encompasses the bulk of practice management requests.  Much of what I discuss can be applied to most other business ideas with only slight modifications.

Rather than give a play-by-play on starting and managing a tax practice, I will take each of Speed’s questions and answer them. The reason for avoiding the play-by-play is because there are many ways of starting a successful business. I don’t want to give the illusion you are locked into one pattern to win. Life is rarely that neat.
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Taxes and Investing

Finding a Good Accountant

The topic of finding a qualified tax professional is common in my mailbox. There is no pat answer for each request so I generally ignore them. Another common request is for a referral if I am too busy. It is true I only accept a small fraction of the requests for service, but the good news is I have more staff this tax season and have been accepting more new clients than last year. The bad news is that I don’t have someone to refer you to in your area.

Yesterday I received an email that touched me. Long emails usually die before I read more than three sentences due to time constraints. This email was different. The sender asked to remain anonymous and I will honor that request. He asked: How do I go about finding a good local accountant? He wants someone local he could shake hands and sit down with to discuss his tax and financial matters. I get it. He continued: I am hoping for an idiot-proof, step-by-step guide. I don’t know where to start searching, never mind narrowing the choices.

Finding qualified professionals is a difficult task. I wish it were as easy as an idiot-proof guide, but there is no such thing. My goal today is to share ways to increase the odds you have a good tax professional on your side.

Good tax professionals are a busy group, especially this time of year. The industry has consolidated over the last few decades and many top notch accountants have retired. Making matters worse is fewer people entering the field. CPAs frequently seek employment in government and large corporations or large accounting firms. The small and mid-sized accounting practice is a dying breed. These are the same firms serving the average American family’s tax preparation and planning needs. Finding an awesome tax professional to work with you is getting harder by the day. I have a few ideas to help you land a good one, but you might not like what you here.

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Organize Your Life to Maximize Net Worth and Minimize Taxes

JD Roth

I had the awesome opportunity of meeting JD Roth! While not fast buddies, I look forward to meeting JD in the future. He is even better in real life than I imagined.

The following post is based on a presentation I gave at Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida on January 15, 2017.

There are several ways to convince someone to speak at your event. Stephen Baughier used the most sure-fire method ever. Stephen noticed I wrote a blog post back in August listing some people I would like to meet someday. He checked two people on the list and found JD Roth open to attending. He then called me and said, “Hey, Keith. I saw on your blog you wanted to meet JD Roth. Well, he is speaking at Camp Mustache SE in January. We would love to have you speak as well and you can meet a man you admire.” How could I say no?

Picking a topic of discussion is something I allow the event organizer to decide. If they have no preference I choose something currently exciting to me. In this instance Stephen thought something about organizing your stuff in preparation for meeting your accountant/tax guy would be a good choice.

I grimaced. My organizational skills are not legend. However, I do keep a tight fist on in financial organization.

Bookkeeping is not a topic which lends to filling an hour presentation. My first thought was to stand in front of the group and yell, “Shut up, and sit down!” while I stabbed my finger at them. “Enter your paperwork once a week and stop bitching about it.” Then I would grab a beer from the fridge and sit down. My first inclination had a slight flaw I thought might turn off the crowd and upset Stephen so I moved to plan B.Continue reading

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Treat Taxes Like a Game

staunton_chess_setLife in the accounting business can be difficult at times. Clients are as close to friends as you can get without actually being friends. You know all the details of their private lives. I know a divorce is imminent many times before the spouse does. I get details on illnesses in the family. I have to. Part of the tax preparation process is to know your client. When you ask about medical expenses you get the details too. In Wisconsin we have a deduction for certain private school tuition. When I ask about the kids I get the low-down on little Billy. And I don’t mind one bit. I care about my clients so I listen and interact. The line between client and friend is thin indeed.

That is why it bothers me when I can’t communicate a message to a client. Try as I may, some clients could care less about their taxes. They are willing to overpay their taxes to get out of all the reporting. They don’t understand the amount of money left on the table.

A few weeks ago I emailed a client reminding them to verify their retirement contributions and to provide a log for business miles and business overnight stays. To be honest, I didn’t expect a response. They are awesome clients and I love’em to death, but they just don’t engage at the level I would like and it bothers me because it is costing them dearly.


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Small Business

Expand Your Business and Increase Margins with Outsourcing




outsourcingStarting a business is an act of love and courage. Enjoying a task soon becomes a business. You might start working out of the home or buy a small store front. The previous hobby now commands more of your precious time. A business is about more than making money. Small business owners love the work they do and get paid to do it. Awesome! Then reality sets in.

When I was a sophomore in high school I fell in love with the stock market crash of 1929. The teacher said economists don’t know what really caused the crash. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was probably the trigger but many other events also played a role. I could not let it go. Every book in the school and public library in my small town was in my paw, devoured for any tidbit of information on why things went so wrong in 1929. I never found a definitive answer, but I did learn a lot about economics.

And the stock market. From that point on I wanted to be a stockbroker. When I was in college I took a business class, accounting, and macro and micro economics. Though I never earned a degree I learned a lot that has helped me in my career. It gave me a start on where and what to study to get good at finance.Continue reading

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Workflow in a Tax Office

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Workflow system.

The more traffic grows on The Wealthy Account the more questions I get from accountants wanting to know how to run their office more efficiently. The tips below can be tweaked to work in many business settings and can be applied to personal management of time with family and friends while allowing ample “me” time for reading, thinking, and relaxing.

The workflow process in my office evolved over time as the tax industry changed and my practice transformed from a tax office to an accounting/payroll/bookkeeping office to its current incarnation as a quasi-communications company focusing on tax issues. So you understand my thought process I will walk through how I handled workflow in the past and why I changed procedures when I did. By seeing each stage of my workflow history you can pull the pieces that fit your situation best and modify them for your needs.

In the Beginning. . .

Organization in a tax office is not optional. From day one workflow had to be recorded and tracked. In business and even in our personal lives it is important to write things down. We start each client with a line item on a legal sized piece of paper. Since there are so many steps we take with our clients we break down each task into its components. Accountants track their own work and the computer monitors progress. My front desk is used as a redundant system, preventing mistakes. An empty checkbox on the legal paper requires investigation.

Before workflow even enters the office, client flow must be managed. In your personal life you can’t visit 38 different friends in different locations at the same time. The same applies in business; you see one client at a time. The early years of my business grew fast. People would frequently drop in without an appointment. Then one year in early February there was a line out of my building and half way down the parking lot. Something had to be done.


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