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Jamie Todd Rubin

paperless Using Evernote for paperless tax preparation

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Earlier today, I wrote a blog post about how I recently used Evernote to prepare for tax season. Because I'd spent the bulk of 2011 going paperless, it was very easy to gather and identify all of the paperwork this year. I cut my normal prep time from several hours down to 15 minutes. I thought I'd start a thread here for others who might be using Evernote in this manner. What tips and tricks have you found that make tax preparation easier?

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Thanks for the blog post.

I tend not to tag tax relevant receipts and documents with "tax" on the time of creatiog. But most relevant stuff still goes into Evernote.

When preparing for tax I open a new note in a new window and go through a few searches in the main window (receipts, bills, etc.), collecting links to all the relevant material in the new note, annotating them where necessary ("Trip to Beijing:" etc.).

In this note, I also store the accompanying letter, forms and any extra worksheets I need to fill in. Essentially, everything which will be sent out is being collected in one place.

When I'm done, I just print (better: zip) everything in this note and send it away.

This also makes sure that later, in this note, I'll always have a complete record of what I sent out for this tax statement.

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I have one note which contains about 12 pdfs which I've collated. These pdf's are my 1099's from various investment sources, info from my Quicken and Quickbook accounts, a spread sheet etc. I sent the entire note with all the pdf's via "Share" through my Evernote desktop directly to my accountant. I used to do this laboriously with email in the past.

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I use a note naming scheme that allows me to pull all documents together using search without having to tag all the notes or nest them in notebooks. Here's an example:

2011.12.31 - Apple Corp - Taxes - 2011 - W-2

2011.04.10 - United Way - Taxes - 2011 - Donation

2011.12.31 - Washington - Taxes - 2011 - 1099-G

The date is the date relavent to me. The next key word is the most relavent to me. The next two key words will be common for all documents/notes that relate to tax year 2011. The final key words relate more specifically to the document.

When I search using "taxes 2011", all the documents related to tax year 2011 show up, including a couple extra documents but not usually more than one or two, which can be easily ignored. Additionally, I could later use tags as an additional layer of qualification if ever I felt the need. But I am not dependent on them.

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Again, much of this is user preference. I have tagged all of my 2011 Tax related stuff with a "2011 Tax" tag. After that I simply name the note "vanguard 1099". Whenever a date is irrelevant to me I don't include it in my naming conventions. For example, I don't really care what date I received the 1099. One reason why I like to use tags is that there are many searches in which I will simply look through the tag contents rather than bringing up the exact document. If I simply click on the 2011 Tax tag I will see fewer than 15 documents and one of them will be Vanguard. With the approach mentioned above I would need to search for intitle:2011 intitle: Vanguard 1099. It's one half dozen of the other. However, one intangible advantage of the "2011 Tax" tag is that it gives me the reassuring feeling that all my 2011 tax documents are in one "place" (almost like a cabinet folder from the old days). I guess I'm still a little fearful of the concept that my most important documents would be swimming around in a vast soup of documents albeit being summonable by clever search terms. I do the same thing for all my statements ie: Cable bills from 2006-2011 are all concatenated into one pdf and dumped into "Cable Stmts". Any new statements that come in will get swept into that note and will be combined into an annual pdf at the end of the year. I realize that an alternative approach is to take each monthly statement and name it "12-31-2011 Time Warner Cable Stmt" and throw it into the proverbial soup. Keep in mind that throwing things into the soup requires meticulous key word labelling BEFORE and precise searches AFTER. Whereas looking into the "Cable Stmts" bucket requires no finesse whatsoever. Nonetheless, I also have a lot of items that do need meticulous key words and searches eg: BC JS EOB Welby 12-31-2011 (a Blue Cross EOB for John Smith's visit to Dr. Welby on date of service 12-31-2011). This hybrid system works well for me and rarely do I have to think how to find things. I think that people should understand all these options and experiment with what works best for them.

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This hybrid system works well for me and rarely do I have to think how to find things. I think that people should understand all these options and experiment with what works best for them.

idoc, I agree with you here. And I'm happy you've found something that works for you. The great thing about these systems that we each create or adopt (a little of both probably) or change things up as the need arises.

One of the reasons that I've adopted the strategy of one file to one note and labeling with a uniform style of file/note naming is that my brain thinks better in terms of naming the thing than describing its location. I could always remember what I wanted to find but just couldn't remember where I put it. Since all my PDF's are OCR'd prior to EN and named intelligently to the way I think, then I'm able to rely on searching rather than knowing where it is to be found (in the more specific directory/folder sense of location). Because of course I know that it's in my second brain - Evernote.

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Another point in addition to what GHall wrote is that not only are they systems we create that are flexible enough to change as needed, they are also systems WE created so they are perfect for each of us. If I have to use Tags and hate them then I'll not flow well in that system. If I can use naming or notebooks to do what works for me then I can flow easily in it since it is the same as I think. For me it made the most sense to create a notebook for tax information since I don't normally scan pharmacy receipts for any other reason. If something came up that didn't fit, however, I could easily switch to using Tags and leave the stuff in the appropriate notebook.

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This hybrid system works well for me and rarely do I have to think how to find things. I think that people should understand all these options and experiment with what works best for them.

idoc, I agree with you here. And I'm happy you've found something that works for you. The great thing about these systems that we each create or adopt (a little of both probably) or change things up as the need arises.

One of the reasons that I've adopted the strategy of one file to one note and labeling with a uniform style of file/note naming is that my brain thinks better in terms of naming the thing than describing its location. I could always remember what I wanted to find but just couldn't remember where I put it. Since all my PDF's are OCR'd prior to EN and named intelligently to the way I think, then I'm able to rely on searching rather than knowing where it is to be found (in the more specific directory/folder sense of location). Because of course I know that it's in my second brain - Evernote.

My problem with putting one file into one note is that you obviously wind up with a whole lot of notes. If you are 100% consistent about your titles, key terms, tags etc you will be able to search and retrieve the exact note you need, every time. I find that small errors with the key terms will quickly make the item very difficult to find. Furthermore, there are many items which don't exactly fit a particular nomenclature and then become difficult to find. Sometimes I find myself conducting 5 searches to figure out where the heck that note went to. Therefore, I tend to bunch pdf files together in one note or even merge them as needed.

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