With the sheer pileup of paperwork alone, taxes are a pain for anybody (except for accountants, maybe, but I’m sure they feel the same way when clients swarm their offices in April).
For people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), preparing taxes can feel like an impossible feat.
Tax prep requires using the very skills that are challenges for people with ADHD — the symptoms of the disorder. Symptoms such as being easily distracted, being disorganized and having difficulty with details become major obstacles.
But while it can seem incredibly overwhelming, tax time isn’t an insurmountable challenge. Below, experts take you through the A to Z of preparing your taxes and cutting out paper clutter.
Your Tax Prep Plan
One of the mistakes people with ADHD — or anyone for that matter — can make is to overcomplicate things. “Unguided, they set up systems that are too hard to maintain or fall apart when not attended to,” according to Dana Rayburn, a senior certified ADHD coach and author of Organized for Life – The Step by Step Guide to Get You Organized So You Stay Organized.
Below Rayburn and other ADHD experts offer suggestions to simplify the tax prep process.
Make an appointment with a tax professional. “Getting somebody else to help with the taxes is often an overlooked solution” to the challenges ADHD can create, says senior certified ADHD coach Tara McGillicuddy.
Also, individuals with ADHD do best when they have a deadline, Rayburn says. So having an appointment in place can help spur you into getting organized.
“Get the date of April 15th out of your head, and create a set of mini deadlines,” McGillicuddy says. If you started too late, request an extension. “Taking your time to carefully follow instructions can save a painful audit later!” according to ADHD coach and founder of Catalytic Coaching Sandy Maynard. Not to mention that it can help reduce your stress.
Find a place to set up shop. This is your space for getting paperwork together and completing the necessary tax forms, Rayburn says.
“Plan for distractions and interruptions,” McGillicuddy says. Before leaving your workspace, make sure that your “papers are in a safe place,” she says. Using simple items like “rubber bands and extra large Ziploc freezer bags can be very helpful.” It only takes about 20 seconds to put papers away, she adds.
Figure out which categories of paperwork you need to collect and save for documentation, Maynard says. The categories will vary with each person’s situation.
Maynard also suggests reviewing the categories with your accountant to make sure you’re collecting the right information.
She lists these general categories:
- All wage/interest income statements (W-2, 1099s, etc.)
- Health eare expenses
- Charitable contributions
- Educational expenses
- Energy saver purchases that qualify for tax deductions
- Interest earned on savings and money market accounts
- Financial investment income
- Gifts that exceed non-taxable amount
- Mortgage interest received (1098)
- Declaration of estimated income tax paid (D-40ES)
If you have a small business or you’re self-employed, they are:
- Business travel expenses (air, hotel, train, shuttle, taxi)
- Office equipment
- Office expenses
- Utility bills if you have a home office
- Books/reference material
- Computer and web-based expenses
- Office cleaning services
- Financial services related to business (credit card fees, tax preparation etc.)
- Professional organization dues
- Business related consulting
- Lost profit related expenses (damaged goods, etc.)
- Business entertainment
Tally up the amounts. Both Maynard and Rayburn say that financial software like Quicken can be of great help. According to Maynard, “Information from Quicken can also be electronically imported directly into the appropriate category of the tax form.”
Doing this by hand? When sorting through paperwork, Rayburn suggests creating two categories: taxable income and deductible expenses. (As you’re sorting, toss anything that isn’t tax-deductible, she says.) Then, organize by category. “For most people medical, home-related and charity will be the most common deductions,” Rayburn says.
Call the IRS hotline if you need help. According to Maynard, “The IRS hotline is very good at answering your tax questions about what is taxable income and what is not as well as what is a deductible expense and what is not.”
Plus, they can help you figure out what forms to use. But this also requires starting early, she says, because the wait time goes up as it gets closer to April 15th. Some cities might even have a local IRS office.
Meet with your accountant or tax preparation person.
Keep all your tax stuff in one place. Rayburn keeps old tax information in a box in her closet, just in case.
Be proactive and record information year-round, Maynard says. (Stay tuned for a post on that!)
Cut Paper Clutter
Many people with ADHD are reluctant to reduce their paper piles, “because they’re afraid (for good reasons) that if they don’t see the paper they won’t remember it,” Rayburn says. She explains that the old adage “out of sight out of mind” is a “dilemma which plagues the ADHD world.”
Of course swimming in paperwork makes it that much harder to find relevant receipts and information for your taxes.
Rayburn suggests the following to help readers cut their paper clutter:
- Know precisely what papers you need to keep, and shred the rest.
- As soon as you get your mail, sort it over the recycling bin. This way, she says, junk mail doesn’t pile up.
- Make sure all your papers have an easy-to-use home. According to McGillicuddy, “For some people just putting the items in something like a shoe box or bin makes a world of difference.”
- “Think twice before keeping paper copies of resource or reference information” because “so much is available over the Internet,” Rayburn says.
- Before printing anything, ask yourself, “How will I use it?” “If you don’t have a solid answer, avoid the clutter and don’t push print,” she says.
- Take your name off mailing lists.
- Cancel any magazine subscriptions that you don’t read anyway.
If you have ADHD, what works for you in preparing your taxes? How do you cut out paper clutter and get organized? If you’re an expert on ADHD, can you offer several tips?
Photo by James Morris, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.