With tax season right around the corner, you'll soon be inundated with forms and records from various sources. Remember that all of this information has been provided to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS computers will be looking to match this information against your tax return. If you fail to report something on your return, it's likely that your friends at the IRS will ask why you failed to report the income or information.
In order to help you prepare your taxes, regardless if you do it yourself or use the services of a tax pro, here is a list of some of the records that you should put aside for the preparation of your taxes.
Keep confirmation reports of purchases and sales of investments, including the execution prices and trade dates. Make sure the information is consistent with the information your broker will provide you on Form 1099-B. The date on which you sold securities is critical, since the new, lower tax rates for long-term capital gains apply only to stocks sold after May 5, 2003.
Keep all statements and reports sent to you by your brokerage, mutual fund company, or other investment services company, and from other sources. Perhaps most important are 1099 forms, which show your proceeds from sales of securities (1099-B) and other capital assets, as well as interest income (1099-INT), state tax refunds and other government payments (1099-G), dividend income (1099-DIV), Social Security earnings (1099-SSA), and distributions from IRAs, pensions, and annuities (1099-R).
If you participate in a dividend reinvestment plan (for stocks or mutual funds), keep track of the dividends you receive, how many shares they purchased, and at what price. This information is necessary to help you calculate the new cost basis for your shares. And don't forget to claim the new, lower tax rate on any qualified dividends you receive.
Keep records of contributions to IRAs and other retirement plans. If you make nondeductible contributions to an IRA, make sure you declare these on IRS Form 8606 so that you don't end up paying taxes again when you eventually withdraw your funds. You should receive year-end account statements as well as receipts for your contributions.
If you make contributions to a Roth IRA, make especially sure that you keep your contribution information. There is no place on the actual tax return to report Roth IRA contributions, but it's important to keep this information in a safe place, since you can remove your contributions tax- and penalty-free at any time, regardless of your age or how long the Roth IRA account has been in place. If you find that you must close your Roth IRA "early," you'll need that contribution information to avoid paying taxes on that part of your distribution.
And if you did make a contribution to an IRA, SEP, 401(k), 403(b), or any other qualified plan, don't forget to see if you qualify for the retirement savings credit. Essentially, if your adjusted gross income is $50,000 or less ($25,000 or less if you're single), you'll qualify for the credit. The lower your income, the higher your credit.
Family and home
Remember that "rebate" check that you received from the IRS late last summer? That wasn't just for your good looks. It was actually intended as an advance on your child tax credit for 2003. You'll have to reconcile the amount that you received and the amount of the credit for 2003. So make sure that you know the amount of rebate that you received when you prepare your child tax credit worksheet. Also, there are some tricks you can use to double-dip this credit.
If you own a home, rental, or investment property, remember to hang onto that year-end mortgage interest statement (1098) that you'll receive from your lender. And keep records of improvements made to your home. These can be added to your basis price, decreasing your taxable gain when you sell the home.
Additionally, keep records of expenses related to selling your home. They can also be deducted from your capital gains. Many people will tell you that this is no longer required because of the capital-gain exclusion regarding the sale of your home. But while the Congress giveth, it can also taketh away. So there might be future law changes that will restrict (or even eliminate) the home-sale gain exclusion. So keeping these records is always a good idea.
Charity and miscellaneous
If you donate stock to a charitable organization, keep records of what you donated, the day of the donation, your cost basis for the shares, and their fair market value. Your deduction will be based upon either the cost of the original shares or the fair market value of the shares donated. And if you donated goods to your charity, such as an auto, make sure that you have the appropriate documentation.
If you give stock away to a friend or relative in the form of a gift, keep records of what you gave, the day of the gift, your cost basis for the shares, and their fair market value, since the person receiving the shares will likely be required to use your original tax basis for any future gain or loss on the sale of the shares.
If you plan to deduct travel or meal expenses relating to investment-related travel, keep records of exactly what the trip involved. Know, though, that many investment-related trips are not deductible, such as travel to attend a shareholder meeting or an investment seminar. IRS Publications 463 and 550 will give you more details.
Keep records of expenses for professional help, such as tax preparers and advisors, legal counsel, etc. In fact, keep records (both invoices and cancelled checks) of any and all deductible expenses... just to be on the safe side.
Roy Lewis lives in a trailer down by the river and is a motivational speaker when not dealing with tax issues, and he understands that The Motley Fool is all about investors writing for investors. You can take a look at the stocks he owns as long as you promise not to ask him which stock to buy. He'll be glad to help you compute your gain or loss when you finally sell a stock, though.