Tax Organizers

Originally published in the Pacific Grove Hometown Bulletin

January 18, 2012

The use of a tax organizer is a great way to prepare for your income tax return when working with tax professionals.  All things considered, it allows the professional to spend more time on important issues, and typically results in a more accurate and less expensive return.

An organizer is essentially a document that prompts you for the vast majority of standard information a tax professional would need to work on your returns in an order that is logical and efficient for the professional.  Organizers often contain questionnaires that alert the professional to potential reportable transactions or areas that may need additional planning or questions.  It also allows the individual to convey preferences about refunds, the use of estimates, future expectations or anything else that seems appropriate.  If you want to get a gold star, sort your supporting tax documents in the same order as the organizer!

Some people think filling out an organizer is a waste of their time because that is what they are paying someone else to do.  The “shoe-box” approach is where all documents are thrown in a box and the professional is supposed to grind out a return.  This is possible, but the reality of the situation is that you will probably end up with either an inferior result or a lot of questions and a large bill.  I have done returns like these over the years – in some cases opening all the client’s mail for the first time including bank statements, bills, and even birthday cards from grandma with a check enclosed!

Better than the “shoe-box” approach is your own ordered approach.  My father was an architect and he had his own business.  I remember the zippered bags he used for sorting tax documents and his all-important summary sheets where he proceeded to add every expense in two-point hand-written font on yellow notebook paper that only he could fully understand (but of which he was quite proud)!  Of course, his CPA – Dan, had to learn parts of it as well.  I can assure you that Dan would have preferred my father use his firm organizer instead, and he probably would have charged my dad less for preparation as a result!

Using a firm provided organizer allows the professional to move quickly through the low value process of data collection and entry and think more about high-impact planning or additional deductions.  The first year you fill out an organizer for a professional, it will typically be more voluminous with many non-applicable pages.  In future years it will often be tailored to you and provide your prior year information for easy comparison – and it helps you know what you may be missing.

In any case, tax organizers are a great tool to help you stay organized from year-to-year.  If you have never used an organizer, you can download one for free from my website at

Prior articles are republished on my website at

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

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