There are many reasons to be sure that your tax and other financial records are safe and available when you need them. At this time of year, as you prepare and file your tax return, it's important to have easy access to receipts, the tax forms you receive from employers and other tax-related documents.
There are many other instances, such as applying for a mortgage or other type of loan, when it will also be important to access your tax returns and other financial information. At the same time, you want to be sure that your personal documents remain confidential. With that in mind, the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA.org) offers these tips on protecting your critical information.
Add Electronic Options
Your original paper copies of important documents should be kept in secure, fireproof containers that will provide protection in the case of an emergency. In addition, it's a great idea to have electronic copies of recent tax returns as well as W2s, 1099s, receipts for tax deductions and any other evidence you need to back up entries on your tax return. You can do this by scanning copies of the documents you receive to both your hard drive and to a removable USB drive that you keep in another secure location.
That second drive is your security in case a disaster—such as a fire, flood or earthquake—strikes the location where your original hard copies and your computer are kept. You should take the same precautions with your will, insurance policies and other important documentation.
Use IRS Resources
If your critical financial data is lost or destroyed, Internal Revenue Service resources for businesses and individuals can help. Their website includes tips on preparing for disaster and reconstructing your records. If you're missing past tax returns, use IRS Form 4506 to get a copy from the IRS or call 800-908-9946.
Protect Your Privacy
While it's important for you to have access to your financial data, it's also vital to ensure that identity thieves do not. When it comes to tax information, these scammers often use a technique called phishing, in which they send out emails claiming to be from the IRS. They may tell you that you are being audited or that your tax information was incomplete, and ask you to supply bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers.
It's important to be aware that the IRS does not use email, text messages or other social media to initiate contact with taxpayers, so don't respond to these phishing attempts or open any attachments. Instead, contact your local IRS office to see if the IRS was actually trying to get in touch with you.
If you receive any communication from the IRS and are unsure how to respond, remember that your CPA can help you determine if it is a legitimate request and offer advice on what to do next.
In addition to avoiding phishing attempts, shredding your paper documents before you discard them can help prevent identity thieves from getting your personal data.
Your Local CPA Can Help
Tax season is a great time to talk to your CPA about your financial records and how to keep them in order. Be sure to turn to your CPA with any other financial questions or concerns you have as well.