A hate affair with my mailbox and taxes - help!

oceannaMarch 27, 2008

I get an "F" in all things made of paper, and I desperately need help. If I had my way I'd cherry bomb my mailbox. Hardly anything good ever comes in there anyway, and a lot of bad stuff and junk mail comes. Fact is, I hate mail.

I haven't got a clue what to do with it. I put almost all of my monthly bills on automatic payment. But I don't know what to do with all the stuff that comes in the mail. So I tend to toss it all in a big pile and ignore it for months without even opening it (told you I was bad). I can honestly testify that you can get away with doing this and survive - lol. People get mad at me because I let their checks expire rather than cashing them. And yes, I need the money. I just hate this stuff.

What do you keep and what do you toss out? What do you have to save for taxes? What about all those iffy things that you *might* use/do or you think you *should* use/do but you'll probably never use/do? What about all the garbage you're supposed to read that you don't want to read? Where do you keep the junk you need to keep?

Taxes -- they scare me to death and I tend to run away from that too. They always owe me anyway. I think I have three years outstanding right now and I don't even know which years they are for sure. I just HATE this paperwork and financial stuff!! I had a tax man but he has dead African animals hung all over the walls of his home and I couldn't stand it so I quit him. Now I don't have one and am not sure where to turn for one. My lil' sis says do Turbo Tax or a cheap immitation, but I dunno if I can do that. Somewhere in there I sold a house and bought one and that really scares me for taxes. I have a couple of letters from the IRS somewhere in the pile, but I haven't opened them. Too scary.

Basically, I'd rather be shot twice and run over once than deal with all this stuff. Am I alone here? Do I need a shrink? A hypnotherapist? A keeper? Or just a good organizer to point out the way?

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Right now it seems like you probably need a CPA, and better one of those, before you also need a tax attorney to deal with the IRS. Seriously, just figure out who you want to use and take all the stuff in and let 'em figure it out.

If you're rich enough you can get this sort of service from banks which offer business office services to wealthy individuals. If not, you'll just have to suck it up and find an accountant you trust.

Maybe you should read one of Suze Orman's books about women and their relationships to their money.


    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 2:33AM
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I am like you, a bit. I have managed to make it mostly manageable, but I understand where you're coming from.

You're not alone--I hate this sort of stuff too. I don't get myself in quite such a bind anymore (though I used to, and I still can), because I have set up some systems. These keep me from having a horrible problem. Instead I just have the fear/frustration/etc.

And I have to steel myself to set aside time to handle the paperwork.

You don't have a disaster on your hands. You have some tedious chores ahead, but it's not a disaster.

You have 2 problems. A short-term one, and a long-term one.

Short term: this year's taxes.

Ask around at work, church, school, laundromat, etc., to see who people use, specifically asking for someone who will help you sort things out.

You don't need a high-end person, just someone willing to help you sort out what you need in terms of paperwork and help you file the taxes.

In fact, if you have a semi-savvy friend, they could probably help you sort through that stack and identify the info you will need for taxes. Heck, you could probably do on your own, it if you could talk yourself off the ledge.
Get someone to come and help keep you company while you do it. Almost all of that stuff (as you know, LOL) will end up in the garbage, and I think the stuff you *need* will be obvious.

(also, the tax preparer you get can probably tell you what forms you will need, by looking at last year's return and asking you questions about your house sale, etc. If it turns out that you can't find it, you can get another copy. There are formulas; you'll be OK)

Long term: a way to handle the incoming paper.

Here's what I do:

*Open all mail **as it comes.** 95% of what I get, I can throw away. Envelopes, pamphlets, etc. Most of what I truly need is obvious.

*Sort that mail. I identified some main categories, and what they make me do with them:
-medical bills (pay or file for reimbursement)
-tax info (file until tax time)
-checks or reimbursements paid to me (stick in my wallet for depositing)
-personal mail (I get very little of it; I try to act that night, by RSVPing for invitations and writing it on the calendar)

If it doesn't fit in one of these categories, I'm in trouble. That's when I need the "Wednesday night is paperwork" system--but it's so unpleasant that I don't often do it. I need to find some way to make it fun (company, mostly) so that I'll stick with it. Heck, even one night a month would be OK.

*create places to put stuff
-medical bills: I do the filing of forms from work, where I have a photocopier, a surface to write on, a file folder, pre-filled-out forms, etc., so I slip these into the folder that I carry back and forth (they ride there for awhile, but at least they're in one place)
-tax info: I have a purple 9x12 clasp envelope on the bookshelf w/ "2008 Taxes" written on it. Anything even REMOTELY tax related goes there immediately, and...

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 10:55AM
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. I think I have three years outstanding right now and I don't even know which years they are for sure.

I just wanted to say, get a tax person ASAP (heck, go to H&R Block if you have to) and get someone to help you figure out which these are.

Penalties add up!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 10:56AM
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I hear you loud and clear.

Take a deep breath and let it out. I have been in your situation and it's not fun. But you can get through it and when you do you will be stronger and smarter.

You have one thing you can do NOW: your taxes for this year.

Go get Turbotax and do your taxes for this year. It will ask you very easy to answer questions about your taxes. Take it from me, it's not scary at all. You don't have to leave your house, and you will not be shuffling any paper tax forms. If you have questions, there are references within the program. If you went to one of the tax preparation places, the tax preparer would be using the same program and reading you the questions off the screen.

The great thing about Turbotax for people in your situation is that if you're scared, you can take a break and come back.

Too much mail.
Catalogs: www.catalogchoice.org
Everything else: http://www.oprah.com/money/credit/20070413/credit_mail.jhtml
Do one of the reduce-your-junk-mail suggestions a day until you're through Oprah's list.

Too much paper
Get a shredder. Open every envelope. Is there anything important in it? Keep the important stuff. Dump the rest of the paper. Paper without your name on it goes into recycling/trash. Shred everything with your name on it. Do the day's mail plus five extra envelopes a day until you're all caught up.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 11:32AM
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Hey there:

Everyone should follow the advice of Jane the Renovator! The opt-out list for the credit bureaus is awesome. I opted out a couple years back, and I NEVER EVER get junk mail offers for credit cards, etc. The do not call registry is also a good thing to do. You can register up to three phone numbers - I get so few solicitations, that my phone rarely rings!!!

I am in the process of writing the big list providers to have my information delisted!

You Can Do It Oceanna! Fight the paper stacking NOW!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 7:34PM
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Thank you all soooo much!! I can't tell you what a comfort it is to hear that some of you understand, and have fought this battle and learned to win. I really need and appreciate the encouragement. Thank you too for the detailed ideas. I really need those!

I'm not in trouble for my taxes because they owe me; I don't owe them. I just need to do them, and I may stand to lose a refund or two if I don't get it done.

Turbotax: That's what my sister says to do too. Have any of you tried the free IRS one that is supposed to be on the Turbotax web site? Or have you tried any cheaper brands?

Opt out lists? Wow thanks, Jane! I'll definitely look into that. Maybe save some trees. I can't believe the incredible amount of junk mail I get. Some days it feels like a freakin' job going through all the garbage they send.

Regular bills -- do you shred those after you pay them? I mean like phone and utilities? Or do you keep them? I used to deduct my dog breeding/showing as a business and I got into the habit of keeping all receipts/bills. So I was going to toss them all, and then I thought I heard something about the taxes we've paid on everything being deductible? I dunno what that was about but it was just during certain years.

I do have a little shredder. I didn't realize I was supposed to shred everything with even my name on it but I sure shred up those darned credit card applications and some other stuff.

Tally Sue, I don't understand about the master form for insurance, etc. What is that for?

There is some great advice here. I'll be book marking this and following your ideas... thanks!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 8:14PM
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You've been given a lot of good advice on getting your papers in order. Take it!

BUT - it doesn't matter if the IRS has refunds to send you or not. You are in violation of the law by not filing tax returns. You say you have 3 years of returns not filed. This is really bad, really serious. Penalties for not filing may have eaten up any refunds, and the IRS will eventually find you.

Get thee to a lawyer immediately!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 10:17PM
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I don't know why she would need an attorney to deal with the IRS. The DH deals with people all of the time that haven't bothered with taxes for way over three years. If you aren't owing taxes (would get a refund) no one's going to be throwing you in jail for anything. You've been paying your taxes and that's the biggest issue. But how in the heck did you get a mortgage without having a tax return?

Hire a good CPA and follow the advice. Take them any and all of the paperwork and be prepared to pay the $$ to clean up the mess. Frankly, if you don't want to even deal with the mail right now, turbo tax probably isn't the way for you to go. That takes being responsible for getting all of your data in order.

If you bill pay automatically, chances are, you don't even need most of that paperwork. Good luck and get started.


    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 1:21AM
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Honestly, I've done this before on the taxes and nothing bad happens but the key is they have to owe you. They're making interest off the money while they're not paying you and my little retirement income is so low if they went after me for anything (which they're not entitled to anyway) it wouldn't pay for them. I don't need a lawyer, but I probably should use a CPA (did before) for the years that I didn't report.

At the time I got the mortgage, I guess I was up to date on my taxes. lol

I guess part of my problem came from that last CPA with all his darned dead animals all over the walls, and he had rather a short temper with me too. I wasn't great before that, but it certainly didn't help. I need to find a super nice tax person. Truly, the ones I've met are dried up old prunes when it comes to personality.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 8:57AM
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I believe it is an overstatement to say that you have to shred all incoming mail with your name on it.

Oceanna - Turbotax or any other tax program is probably not a good fit for you because of your avoidance mechanisms. Find someone to do your taxes who charges by the hour - they will make money off your disorganization. Or better yet, hire an organizer who specializes in paperwork.

Once you get the immediate mess cleaned up, for a look at why you hate dealing with bills and end up with all that paperwork, you may want to read, "Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding" by David Tolin, Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. It is a self-help book for hoarders, and your aversion to dealing with paperwork is related to hoarding. The authors give you a series of exercises to help you examine your emotions (positive and negative) related to things, including paper.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 9:35AM
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I just did my state taxes on Turbotax. Took me 15 minutes.

Oceanna, if I were you, I would buy Turbotax and then call your sister up and ask her over to do your taxes for this year with you. It should take an afternoon, max. If your sister has used Turbotax, she'll be able to hold your hand while you do it. It's really pretty empowering.

You are already on the right track with putting your bills on automatic payment. The next step is to reduce your paper inflow through the reduce-your-junk-mail directions from Oprah. Right now, you have problems sorting out the important stuff from the clutter. Implementing those steps will take a little while, but after six months, there will be almost no "clutter" mail entering your house--and you will be able to clearly see the important stuff.

Perhaps it is not necessary to shred everything with one's name on it, but it does great stuff for our compost! Our plants are very happy.

I am including a link to some great financial paper-handling strategies from another site dedicated to those digging their way out from under HUGE messes, Squalor Survivors.

Here is a link that might be useful: THE SSSSSS Files: Script's Suggestions & Systems for Simple Solutions to Serious $ Scenarios

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 12:56PM
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I work for the big green tax preparation company, but I certainly don't speak for them.

That said, the people in my franchise are pretty nice people and competent. (I can't speak for the whole company - you may find a bad egg out there.)

Most importantly, you can bring me* your files, I'll ask you a few questions, and you can go off and hyperventilate and not worry about the process while I do it all. If it turns out you're missing some files, I'll call you back, explain what I need, and help you get copies to complete your return.

I can also do your back taxes as far back as you need done. Two caveats: You won't get a refund for a return filed more than 3 years back, and you'll probably want to wait until after April 15 to do any not-time-critical back taxes, as we're pretty slammed right now.

While I'm a big fan of DIY, there are times when it's just good to let someone else who has the expertise deal with something that's stressing you out. It's like cleaning someone else's house - the pro can just get through the work without getting hung up on emotional issues or "oh, I should do that" or whatever.

I've got a lot of clients who cry, or turn green, or have full-blown panic attacks at my desk. It'll be ok - we can get through it, and fix it, and take the stress off.

Mind you, you don't have to come to the big green box - if your sister is willing to come deal with it, great! If you have a CPA recommended to you, great! I just think from the stress level reflected in your initial post, you'll get more accomplished by dumping it in someone else's lap, at least this year.

(My other job is considering transferring me to Germany - trust me, I'm more than happy to dump the wackiness in Ernst & Young's lap. US tax code is one thing, German tax code is another, and the two combined make *me* turn green.)

*I'm speaking in the generic "me/I/we" here.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 2:56PM
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Re: the bigger question of the paper:

You've gotten great suggestions, and some really cool resources.

My method is much like yours, but I get to things a bit faster. First, my roommates get the mail and put mine at the top of the stairs to my space. I've specifically asked them not to include any catalogs, so they have a big recycle bin right by the front door and I never see the catalogs.

I page through the pile looking for anything that might be a rogue bill. Most everything is handled by a billpaying service, which means almost nothing in the mail is actually important, but I want to do a quick check. Real bills get dealt with immediately (and I send them a nasty note to use the darn billpayer system). Then I throw the pile on my desk for later.

When I get to it, usually once a week or so:
--I put magazines/newsletters in a pile to be read. That pile migrates to the magazine holder in the living room and/or my laptop bag for bus rides or doctor-office waiting, etc.
--Credit offers, etc., get shredded. I have a little hand-held deal that works fine and hangs on my wall.
--Things that need to be filed get put into a pile "To be filed" which I get to when I feel motivated.
--Things that actually need action get acted on, then put into the "To be filed" pile.

Overall, this keeps me from panicking that I've missed something critical, but doesn't feel as rigid as "Every Thursday I do bills for an hour", which would completely kick in my procrastination gene.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 3:25PM
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I can sympathize! I also hate/fear paperwork. I signed up for online banking and I do bills a couple times a month. I didn't file taxes for two or three years. When I finally got around to it, it was because my DH got disgusted and went to a tax preparer. Ended up we owed taxes, penalties and interest. He took out a home equity loan just to pay our back taxes. He never forgave me for that, belive me, and he brings it up as often as he can. The las
at few years I used Turbotax and it is pretty easy. Spend a few days, an hour or so a day, and it's done. I realied about two weeks ago I'm missing a tax form from my prior employer. Sent for it and as soon as it comes, I'll zip over to TurboTax. Good Luck! I feel your pain!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2008 at 5:48PM
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I just want to second the sentiment that *any* tax prep place can handle your taxes, even your back taxes.

I think, from how you describe yourself, that you probably *should* hire someone else--the easiest person you can get (which may just be a big chain, bcs they're not hard to find).

You don't need a lawyer to deal w/ the back taxes; any tax prep person with more than two years of experience can handle it. And in the big chain, if the person w/ your forms hasn't done it, the person sitting next to him/her has. It's all formulas.

Good luck, get cracking!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 9:43AM
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If nothing else, get 2007's taxes filed. If you qualify for the stimulus rebate, you need to file by 4/15 to be able to get it.

I completely understand you aobut the paper! I have my own paper issues I am dealing with. I do well fo awhile, then it all falls apart.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 5:55PM
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I agree with Graywings--its already April 1, you haven't done your taxes, and if you don't like paperwork, do it yourself isn't your style. You also commented that you bought a house and sold a house, there are tax issues there and there is no sense paying more tax because you don't know what's deductible . You can select the tax preparer--walk into an office and see who you think will be friendly and nice. Altho CPA's are not hired for their charm and personality. They should be people who enjoy reading IRS cases, checking the tax code and are good at numbers, and conscientious about filing on time. anybody in that category is not going to be all smiley when you bring them a shopping bag of unopened mail on April 14. So to insure yourself a good experience doing taxes this year--call tomorrow for an appointment within 5 days, open the mail now and start sorting it. Most tax people will be happy to send you a kind of outline to get you started. Look for the last tax return you did file--that has information thats helpful.
Good luck--this still isn't going to be as bad as your last trip to the dentist.
The other suggestions you got were wonderful for reducing your mail. Personally, I sort the mail the minute I get it, and throw out the junk immediately.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 2:07AM
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And you have to file your taxes to get your rebate check in May from the government to stimulate the economy!!! Think of all the decorating you can do with that!!!:)

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 9:34AM
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Paper and the crap that comes in the mail is absolutely overwhelming! And my husband and I are reasonably conscience of reality! Why is it the older we get and want to organize and pair down our paperwork, the more the government and insurance companies and local municipals, etc. send us more to consider and take care of?
What I do to make it easier is keep a file for current year tax considerations. Everything federal or state tax related goes into that file. As W-2 and other end of year statements come in the mail -- slip them into that file folder. I keep a box for sales tax receipts all year long and add them up periodically; tax requirements change periodically and sometimes keeping track of sales tax helps but it always gives you the opportunity to produce a receipt when necessary. Keep medical file folders for each family member along with the paperwork. On the file inside folders, keep a written record of your out of pocket transactions, i.e., prescriptions, co-pays, and payments to doctors, etc. It makes it easy to add up at the end of the year.
The bottom line is, don't wait for the last minute to get your stuff together. Set up files and an organization that makes sense for you and your tax situation. At the end of the year, it's a little extra effort to add it all up, but way better than not being organized from the start.
Just get started -- every little bit helps. The next year will be even easier.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2008 at 10:59PM
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I like Quicken as it keeps track of medical, charge accounts, checking/saving accounts etc Then sometime in Feb. all I have to do is get the report and print. Guess I have had it so long, it is really easy for me. You can set up any catagory and sub catagories as you want to.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2008 at 10:30PM
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did Oceanna get her taxes done on time? Please tell us, and how painful was it? You do get that tax rebate once you have filed.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 2:44AM
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When I was very ill with depression, I became overwhelmingly behind in my paperwork. Here is the simple filing system that helped me get caught up!
I file routine stuff by date. I have 12 file folders - one for each month. I rotate them so that this month's folder is always at the front and I keep it in front for a few days into the next month. Anything bill that is automatically paid just goes into that folder the minute I open it. The envelope and anything else in the envelope just goes into recycling after I have glanced at it to see what it is.

At the end of the year, all the folders have stuff in them. I just reuse them for the next year. I make a big brown envelope with the year written on it and as I move each month's folder to the front, I immediately put last year's stuff into the brown envelope. This means that when tax time comes, I have all that stuff in a folder by year and I can go through it and remove anything needed for tax purposes.

I used to keep back copies of bills for a few years but truly I have rarely needed them. If I need one urgently, I can get it from the company. So now I only keep them for a couple of years. Because they are in their own envelopes, by year, I can just take the whole envelope and shred it some time when I'm feeling industrious.

When I was getting caught up, I just filed EVERYTHING in the monthly folders. After things settled down, I broke out a few categories. I have an INCOME TAX file that I put stuff in that I know is tax related; I have a file for savings/investments that I track regularly and I have a file called 'cards' where I keep additional copies of car insurance cards, health insurance cards etc.

I find it easier to keep up this personally simplified filing system. I rarely need stuff from the monthly files but if I do, I can usually recall approx. when I did what so it's not that hard to go through them.

Good luck getting caught up.

I have a friend who is a professional accountant and believe me, he is used to folks who are in a panic about their finances and there are huge numbers of these folks. So I would advise you to get a professional tax prep. person to help you if it doesn't work with your sister as they are non-judgmental and used to dealing with folks who have your kind of concerns.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 1:16PM
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