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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Lost And Found: Tax Returns (and memories of 9th grade science class)

You know that sinking feeling. You just had the directions, airline tickets, passport...and now they're gone. Or you just (well, not that long ago) saw your insurance card, your prior year's tax return, the envelope with the key to your safe deposit box...

Disorganization is cruel -- when things are not assigned a home, we're far less likely to notice when something is missing before we absolutely, positively need it. Because we tend to put things DOWN instead of putting them AWAY, finding something again when you need it is dependent upon remembering where we put it down. But of course, if we were paying that much attention to the item when we put it down, wouldn't we have made the effort to put it where it belonged? Oy.

As we put more and more papers down, rather than away, our papers pile up like sedimentary rock layers, and we generally know that the items near the top are (relatively) recent, and the items near the bottom date from the Pleistocene era (when we sported bad perms and wore leg warmers). Of course, one unexpected tug from a toddler learning to toddle or one flourish of a conversational point made with sweeping arm movements can cause what the Earth Science teachers might have called disequilibrium due to shifting plate tectonics. (Don't hold me to that; there was a really cute boy in my 9th grade Earth Science class.)

In most cases, if disorganization causes you lose an important paper, you can find an alternative or a replacement. Sometimes that involves 'fessing up to the person who gave you the original contract or document, prostrating yourself with apologies and embarrassment and promising you'll do better in the future. There are, however, some situations where you can get yourself in gear with minimal fuss.

For today's example, let's say you need your recent tax returns. As we discussed in the post on financial filing, you should save your tax returns forever, while the supporting material need only be archived seven years if you're really short on space. However, there are many reasons why you'd need to be able to locate your last three years of tax returns:

  • You're being audited. (Ouch!)
  • You're ready to buy or build a new house and are applying for a mortgage. (Watch that interest rate!)
  • You're seeking vendor capital for a new business. (Welcome to entrepreneurship!)
  • You're trying to get a loan from a bank or lending institution. (Uncle Morty may not ask for your tax returns, but he also may come over unexpectedly and more often than you'd like to check how you're spending the money.)
In the last three cases, lenders are going to want to verify your income; in the first case, I give you my sympathies. In any event, you don't want to keep your potential lenders (or the IRS) waiting, but what if you can't find every return?

Maybe you haven't set up your family filing system yet. Or maybe your movers did a terrible job labeling boxes and you're still being surprised when you open packing boxes, not knowing if you'll find bunny slippers or rabbit ears (on an old TV). Or maybe (and I hope this is not your situation), you are a victim of Hurricane Katrina, the California wildfires or other natural disasters, which have separated you from your records or destroyed them altogether.

Whether you've climbed through hundreds of boxes (or have no boxes at all) and can't find the right file, worry ye not! You can get replacements of your tax returns in the following ways:

Check your computer – if you used a commercial tax preparation product like TurboTax or Tax Cut, you should have a printable copy of your tax return right there on your hard drive. You may have to navigate the forms and files embedded in the software, but assuming you've still got the program installed, it's an easy (if easily overlooked) option. Free!

Surf the web – if you used an online tax preparation, like TurboTax, you can access your prior year or years of tax returns from your "online vault". Just log in with your password (or use their online function to have a forgotten password re-sent) and "Access Your Prior Years Returns" will be one of your main options. Just download the return in PDF form and print it out. Free!

Contact your tax preparer – if you hired a CPA or storefront service, you should be able to request a reprint of your return from their computer records. Fees vary on this; if you have a good relationship with your accountant and the return was simple, she may give you a free copy, or if your return was complicated, might impose a nominal copying free. Storefront services might charge a slightly higher fee, but it's better than missing your audit.

Talk to the Feds – The IRS can provide copies of your returns from the past seven years. Just call 1-800-829-1040 or go to http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=110571,00.html and print and mail IRS Form 4506T Request for Transcript of Tax Return.

The "transcript" shows all the major lines from your return (1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) up until you filed it. It doesn't show revisions made by you, your tax preparer or the IRS after your original filing. (For that, you'll need to request an Account Transcript, also via IRS Form 4506T. The transcript is free and will suffice for mortgages and other lenders seeking to verify your income.

However, if you need a copy of a full tax return (for example, for an audit), you'll need to fill out IRS Form 4506 Request for Copy of Tax Return, from http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506.pdf.
Note: the IRS will charge $39 per return.

Lost And Found is a new periodic Paper Doll series. In future posts, we'll talk about what to do if you lose your automobile title, stock and bond certificates, savings and Treasury bonds, and vital documents like birth certificates, passports and more.

But remember, just because you CAN replace lost documents with a little time, elbow grease and cash doesn't mean that you should plan your life around these options. These are Plan B—the backup plans.

Keeping your paperwork organized and up-to-date is always Plan A. ("A", as in the grade I did NOT get in 9th grade Earth Science, because I was trading glances at that cute boy. I should note, in 26 years, this is the first time I've needed to recall anything about plate tectonics, but organized papers have helped me practically every single day.  Just a thought.)

posted on: 1/22/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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