You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

7 Tips for Keeping Receipts Organized for Tax Time Your accountant will love you if you follow these record-keeping basics. And auditors will have less cause for concern.

By Mark J. Kohler

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Shutterstock

Many Americans often ignore or quickly say "No" when asked whether they want a receipt, but not small-business owners. Is this because they spend hours upon hours organizing them during the year and look forward to turning them into their accountant? Um, not necessarily. Savvy business owners simply know how to keep receipts because if they don't, their tax return could be in peril. The reality is: Receipts are audit protection and we have to take that seriously.

This past year Betty Ong, a real-estate broker in Northern California, was another casualty of tax court and lost to the Internal Revenue Service. Ong deducted thousands of dollars for travel, meals, entertainment, automobile and cellphone expenses, but like many small-business owners, didn't keep the strict substantiation requirements of the IRS. While Ong was able to produce books and records proving the expenses were incurred, she failed to show receipts, notes and documentation that the expenses were business related. In the words of the court, the only evidence she presented to support the business purposes of her expenses was her "own broad self-serving testimony and uncorroborated notes."

Sadly, Ong is just one of many business owners who didn't keep proper records and lose in audits or tax court every year. The reality is that you may be entitled to these deductions, but if you don't follow the rules, you could be left out in the cold. Here are some basic tips:

Keep all receipts

This point cannot be overstated. I was recently helping a client with an audit in which the IRS agent asked for every receipt to support my client's travel expenses taken during the year. It's true that you could argue what's called "the Cohen Rule," that you can use "other credible evidence," or rely on IRS Publication 463 which says that you don't need to keep receipts for expenses under $75, but why get into a fight? Arguing with the IRS can cost you a lot more time and money than just keeping your receipts.

Make notes on receipts about their business purpose

This is an especially great idea for dining and entertainment expenses. It can be easy to remember why you bought a fax machine (Do people still buy fax machines?), but it could be a lot harder to remember who you went to dinner with at Red Lobster three years ago and what the business purpose was.

Related: How to Keep Your Zen During Tax Season

Scan receipts and keep them at least six years

Yes, the IRS can come knocking for documentation and audit you up to six years back in some cases. However, hoping that the ink on your Home Depot receipt hasn't faded away is a whole other issue. The IRS allows taxpayers to scan receipts and store them electronically. But keep a back-up, because crying about your hard drive crashing isn't going to help you any more than "My dog ate my receipts."

Take a picture with your smartphone

With today's technology, it's easy to say "Forget the receipt, I'll just make a note on the receipt and then take a picture of it". This is a great idea and there are a whole host of apps for the iPhone and Android that can help you better track your expenses.

Keep a daily business journal

A daily journal for your business may sound like overkill, as if you weren't all busy enough. However, it can be simply accomplished by keeping a good calendar in your Outlook or Google Calendar. I was in an audit representing a taxpayer about two years ago, in which the auditor actually asked for a printout of my client's Outlook calendar to substantiate various deductions being claimed. Several good legal and other reasons to keep a detailed schedule of your day exist, even if you add these details at the end of the day.

Related: How the IRS Classifies Independent Contractors

Don't rely on credit-card statements and canceled checks

These are important, yet insufficient without receipts. The IRS may see that you spent $422 at Staples, but it doesn't know what you bought. It could be movies and useless technical gadgets, and not the computer paper and supplies you expensed them under. For bookkeeping purposes, these records are fantastic, but the detail is critical for an IRS auditor.

Stay away from cash

Using cash for expenses seems to be the absolute death-nail for my clients trying to keep good bookkeeping records and documentation for an audit. Cash is hard to track, easy to spend, and nearly impossible to reconcile with receipts. Stick to debit and credit cards to better track your expenses and then combine them with receipts.

It's no secret that audits will continue to only increase and the rules will be only more strictly enforced. The best course of action for small-business owners is to be prepared with a better set of books and receipts for all of their expenses, staying one step ahead of the "tax man."

Mark J. Kohler is a CPA, Attorney, Radio Show host and author of The Tax and Legal Playbook: Game Changing Solutions For Your Small Business Questions and What Your CPA Isn't Telling You: Life Changing Tax Strategies from Entrepreneur Press.

Mark J. Kohler

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Author, Attorney and CPA

Mark Kohler, M.PR.A., C.P.A., J.D., is a highly respected Founding and Senior Partner at KKOS Lawyers, specializing in tax, legal, wealth, estate, and asset protection planning. With a reputation as a YouTube personality, best-selling author, and national speaker, Kohler is dedicated to guiding clients through complex legal and financial landscapes to achieve their American Dream. He also serves as the co-founder and Board Member of the Directed IRA Trust Company and has launched the Main Street Certified Tax Advisor Program to train CPAs and Enrolled Agents nationwide. As the co-host of The Main Street Business Podcast and The Directed IRA Podcast, he simplifies intricate topics like legal and tax strategy, asset protection, retirement, investing, and wealth growth. Mark Kohler's commitment to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners attain success and financial security has made him a trusted expert in the field, benefiting countless individuals and businesses in navigating the financial and business world with confidence.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

This Dad Started a Side Hustle to Save for His Daughter's College Fund — Then It Earned $1 Million and Caught Apple's Attention

In 2015, Greg Kerr, now owner of Alchemy Merch, was working as musician when he noticed a lucrative opportunity.

Business News

This One Word Is a Giveaway That You Used ChatGPT to Write an Email, According to an Expert

"Delve" has increased its presence in written work since ChatGPT entered the scene.

Business News

Yes, You Can Buy a Foldable Tiny Home on Amazon — And Now It's Selling for Less Than $12,000

The waterproof and flameproof house was listed around $35,000 a few months ago.

Starting a Business

4 Common Mistakes That Will Spell Doom Your Ecommerce Business

It's hard to spot a success story before it happens, yet it's easy to tell if a business will struggle. With that in mind, here are the four most common mistakes people make that you should avoid when starting an ecommerce business.

Business News

This Futuristic Wearable Smartphone Alternative Projects a Screen on Your Palm — And It's Now Widely Available

Humane's Ai Pin fastens magnetically to clothing and becomes a voice-activated AI assistant that can make calls, send texts, take notes, and find answers to complex questions.

Side Hustle

This Insurance Agent Started a Side Hustle Inspired By Nostalgia for His Home State — Now It Earns Nearly $40,000 a Month

After moving to New York City, Danny Trejo started a business to stay in touch with his roots — literally.