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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The IRS and I: A Love Story

I’m one of those people who actually enjoys doing his own taxes. Maybe “enjoys” is putting it strongly since I don’t find intense pleasure in maneuvering through the legalese that is the national tax code. The former motel night auditor in me isn’t scared of the columns of numbers, though, and I’m picky enough to manually check the math after a tax program does it for me, so I fulfill a couple of emotional needs there.
Alternately, I am not one of those guys who is gathering his tax documents eight months ahead of time. Through the year, I throw pertinent receipts and things I think might be handy into a security box, if they aren’t digitized and in the cloud that is an external hard drive. I don’t really touch the whole pile until February, when I start winding up to file tax returns. I figure just having all my documents in one safe place is most of the battle for being prepared for tax day – and according to the Internal Revenue Service, we think alike.
Our IRS buddies sent out some word on keeping tax records safe during hurricane season, which we in Phoenix otherwise refer to as “the hellish summer that never ends” seasno. Again, that’s just the nickname we bandy about around my house. I almost deleted that IRS email since hurricanes don’t really grab my attention, but curiosity made me dig through the letter. I shouldn’t be surprised that the steps the IRS recommends are pretty much the same things we preach here and on the Arizona Emergency Information Network.
Obviously, the point of building redundancies and back-ups into a plan – and having a plan in the first place – isn’t specific to taxes but it is vital to preserving important information: information we collect, keep, put into a pile or cram into a folder in a box or on a hard drive.
These tips from the IRS also echo a saying we have in emergency management: Document, document, document. It’s preached to cities, counties, and all governmental agencies recovering from a disaster because they can’t get compensated without proper documentation. It turns out it’s good advice for the business community and everyday folks, too.
Who would've thought I had so much in common with the IRS? Their tips:
1. Backup records electronically Taxpayers should keep a set of backup records in a safe place away from the original set. Keeping a backup set of records, bank statements, tax returns, insurance policies, etc. is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically. Even if the original record is only available on paper, it can be scanned into an electronic format. With documents in electronic form, taxpayers can download them to a portable backup storage device such as an external hard drive, CD or DVD that you can take with you in the event that you need to evacuate.
2. Document valuables Taxpayers should photograph or videotape the contents of their home, especially items of higher value. A photographic record can help an individual prove the market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Photos should be stored at an outside location.
To document valuables, the IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584, Casualty, Disaster and Theft Loss Workbook, which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings.
3. Update Emergency Plans Emergency plans should be reviewed at least once a year. Personal and business situations change over time as do preparedness needs. When employers hire new employees or when a company changes functions, plans should be updated and employees should be informed.
4. IRS Ready to Help If a disaster strikes, affected taxpayers can call 1-866-562-5227 to speak with IRS specialists trained to handle disaster-related issues. Taxpayers can request copies of previously-filed tax returns by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. Taxpayers can also request transcripts showing most line items on a return online at, by calling 1-800-908-9946 or by using Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Return.
  1. More information on preparing for disasters can be found at Forms and publications can be downloaded at or ordered by calling 1-800-829-3676.

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