Where’s That Contract? Five Filing Tips
It’s Tuesday and your accountant calls asking for a specific receipt. The next day your lawyer calls requesting a copy of a client contract. Can you find them quickly or are the papers buried in a full file cabinet that you had every intention of organizing at the beginning of last year? These don’t have to be stressful requests.
Make a system. While tossing papers in bins may keep your desk clean, simply moving the papers from one spot to the next will do you no good if you don’t have an organization system for your important records. Here are a few tips for an organizing project so you can get it off of your New Year’s to-do list.
Before you begin:
- Purchase a small safe that’s fireproof and waterproof. Use it for critical documents like birth certificates, business licenses, social security cards and more.
- Get a shredder or find the document shredding dates in your community.
- Get recycle bins and bags.
TIP 1: Know the Rules
There are set standards for maintaining business and personal files. Begin with the basic rules and then add your own. For example, a colleague who is a professional photographer says that she keeps all of the wedding photo files because clients may return requesting copies.
According to irs.gov, small business owners and self-employed persons should follow this rule: “Generally, you must keep your records that support an item of income or deductions on a tax return until the period of limitations for that return runs out.” – irs.gov
TIP 2: Lift and Separate and Scan
The NeatDesk scanning system is a big help!
Small biz owners and self-employed persons can’t afford too many blurred lines. As you begin to review your paperwork, create a dividing line. Place your work files on one side and your personal files on the other. There’s always some crossover but if you have questions, check with your accountant.
Now that you know what goes where, you can begin filing them in hard copy or electronically. IRS rules now allow for scanned receipts. Scanning your receipts and certain files will save you lots of room. The NeatDesk scanner is a great tool.
TIP 3: Add Your Own Rules
Begin by making your personal short list of the categories. You may discover others later while plowing through files, but stick to a set limit – 30 categories gets confusing.
- Start with major areas: Home, Health, Finance, Education, Work and Vehicles, for example.
- Assign a color or file type to each category to make it easy to identify.
- Set specific rules about which files go where and when.
Use the usa.gov standards on household recordkeeping as a guide for personal files.
TIP 4: Add Structure: Boxes, Bins, Labels and More
Smead’s Viewable color labeling system is a great tool.
Once you have an idea of how your system will work, purchase the types of boxes and bins that you need. You may prefer one file cabinet or a system of boxes and bins. Whichever you choose, be sure that it protects and maintains your files adequately.
Create your own system or purchase a ready made system to get you started. Here are a few:
TIP 5: Create Fingertip Files
Often, there are files that you need to access quickly and effortlessly. They may still have a permanent place in your filing system but situations may require that can grab them easily.
- You’re filing for a small business certification and you need to access your Articles of Incorporation or Tax ID info quickly.
- Your daughter is applying for college scholarships and needs transcripts, letters of reference and test scores.
- You need to sell your old car and need the maintenance records and registration available for potential buyers.
Each of these situations require that the files are at your fingertips. Find a small file box that you can get to quickly. Keep the files together and immediately refile them in their permanent place after your child has received the scholarship letter or your small business certification is complete.
If all of these tips fail, hire HELP! There are qualified organizers in your area. Try companies like Essence of Time in Dallas
. Use Yelp or TaskRabbit to find qualified assistance in getting your files together.