How to Go Paperless in Your Home Office Express News

If your tax seasons have involved too much paper wrangling, consider throwing out your file cabinets and going paperless. Everything you have to track for the IRS you can also keep digitally.

Here are some tips to best digitize, back up and safely toss your paper records in favor of digital ones. You can also find a full list of Wirecutter’s best tools for a paperless home office here.

A mobile scanning app that can produce clean copies can free you of the tyranny of paper scraps.

Gil Charney, director at the Tax Institute at H&R Block, said, “The IRS will accept electronic digital versions of documents provided that the documents are retrievable and legible, so a poorly scanned document is not going to suffice if important elements of that document are not readable.” (Disclosure: Wirecutter recommends H&R Block’s free service in our guide to the best tax software.)

But considering the sensitive information you capture for tax season, it’s important to choose a service that doesn’t put your documents at risk. We recommend the Scanbot Pro app for both Android and iOS because it produces good-quality scans but doesn’t transmit your data to its own servers.

To make filing easier next year, remember to save records of your expenses as you go. Mike Crabtree, CPA and partner at Boulay, a financial advisory firm in Eden Prairie, Minn., said, “What I always used to tell people is to pick a drawer in your house and put all your stuff there so you have it all in one place. The new version of that is open up a file in your computer and load things in there throughout the year as you get them. I think the key is just having everything in one place instead of having to try and track everything down.”

Mr. Charney recommends creating a folder by tax year but beyond that using whatever system works for you so that you can easily retrieve documents as needed.

Just make sure to back up your documents in more than one place. Ransomware can hold computer files hostage. Outages can make cloud drives inaccessible. If you have two forms of storage, one can act as a fail-safe for the other. We recommend backing up your documents in the cloud and on a hard drive. Wirecutter has five hard drive recommendations to choose from, depending on the volume of data you regularly back up and how often you want to move it around.

Mr. Crabtree uses a flash drive for his personal returns in addition to saving on a backed-up drive. “Just in case my computer crashes or something, it’s kind of insurance. It’s a belt and suspenders kind of thing,” he said.

Another way you can back up your computer’s hard drive is by paying for monthly software that runs in the background and saves your files in a separate location. Wirecutter recommends Backblaze, which is easy to set up, starts running immediately on both Mac and Windows and performed pretty well in speed tests.

You can purge files that are older, too. Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and tax expert for TurboTax, said, “In general, you should keep your tax records for three years.” (Disclosure: Wirecutter recommends TurboTax Deluxe in our guide to the best tax software.)

Mr. Crabtree recommended keeping records for up to seven years in case you have substantially underreported income that the IRS can come after. “We also recommend you keep the return itself forever,” Mr. Crabtree said.

Although changes to federal tax law eliminated the need for itemized deductions for most people, you shouldn’t necessarily forgo keeping records of what you spend in 2019.

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