Back in college, after completing a particularly difficult final exam on media law, my classmates and I marked the end of the ordeal by ritualistically burning our note cards.
"Marbury v. Madison" (fwhoosh), "Falwell v. Flynt" (fwhoosh), and so on.
I'm tempted to do something similar each year after I file my income tax returns - a cleansing ritual, if you will.
"Schedule C" (fwhoosh), "Form 4562" (fwhoosh).
Of course, that would be a bad idea, because we know people should maintain their tax records for many years in case of an audit. Sigh.
So, burning the records is out, but as the income tax filing season draws to a close, most of us probably just want those files out of sight and out of mind, at least until next year.
But before you clear your mind of all things income-tax related, there are a few things you should do.
First off, there are probably things you came across as you prepared your returns, such as records you wish you had kept more organized, and receipts you wish you hadn't thrown away. Incorporate those lessons into your planning for next year, maybe by updating your filing system.
I find that having one of those accordion-style file boxes from the office supply store works pretty well for keeping records organized, so long as I actually file them instead of putting them in a "to be filed" pile.
Next, and perhaps most importantly, see if you need to adjust your tax withholding rate.
If you ended up owing income taxes and had to write a big check, you may have even had to pay a penalty. Make sure you are having enough money withheld from your paycheck to avoid that problem next year. If you are self-employed, make sure your estimated tax payments will be high enough to avoid a penalty next year.
On the other hand, if you received a big refund, that means you've been loaning money to the government at zero interest. You'll likely want to adjust your withholding amount so that you can keep those funds, through larger paychecks, rather than loaning the money to the government during the year and getting it back the following April.
While you're at it, make sure you're not providing other interest-free loans to the government, or to big businesses.
For example, right now there are billions of dollars worth of federal savings bonds in circulation that are no longer paying any interest. That sounds crazy, but considering that bonds can take up to 40 years to mature, it's not hard to see how people forget about them.
Saving bonds that no longer pay interest are at least 20 years old (series HH), and most are older. You can see which series are no longer paying interest at treasurydirect.gov.
Not sure if you might have an old savings bond? At treasurydirect.gov you can check using the "Treasury Hunt" feature to find out.
You're probably more likely to have unused gift cards than old savings bonds, and that's another way that you loan money for free. Think about all the money big companies make by earning interest on cards people buy and then don't use for months.
Even worse, many people just give money away by failing to redeem gift cards - more than $1 billion every year by most estimates. Yes, they make for handy gifts, but keep track of them like real money and don't let them sit around.
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