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Tax Prep & Filing

Track Down Your Tax Records

Review your receipts now to make sure you can back up deductions at tax time.

Over the next several weeks you will begin to receive tax forms from your employer, banker, broker and others. (Find out what to do if your forms do not arrive on time.) While you're waiting, take a few minutes to track down the rest of the documents you'll need to prepare your taxes, especially if you plan to itemize.

If you're the type who keeps impeccable records, neatly storing receipts by date, purpose and color, then file this story under "reference" because we'll tell you what items you'll need to keep if the IRS ever asks you to back up your deductions. You won't have to file most of these records with your tax return. But you should hang on to them for three years in case you're audited.

And for those who stuff everything in a shoebox, or forget to keep receipts at all, don't panic. The sooner you start going through what records you do have, the easier it will be identify what's missing and get replacements.

Charitable donations

You can write off your good deed if you itemize deductions. A cancelled check is enough documentation for charitable gifts worth $250 or less, says Donna LeValley, contributing editor of J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2003. But you'll need a receipt from the charity for donations worth more than $250. If you've misplaced your receipt, call the charity to see if it can issue a replacement, LeValley says. For charitable gifts through payroll deductions at work, make sure you have a pledge card or some proof other than your pay stub if your contribution exceeds $250.


If you make a non-cash donation, such as art, you might need more documentation. Gifts of more than $5,000 (with the exception of stocks) should be professionally appraised. For art valued at $20,000 or more, also include a photo of the gift with your tax return.

If you donate a vehicle in fair condition, you can use used car value guides, LeValley says. You also can write off 14 cents a mile for each mile you used your car for charitable purposes. Just make sure you have a mileage log.

Child or dependent care

If you paid someone to care for your child or a dependent, you might be able to claim a credit for these expenses. You'll need the name, address and taxpayer identification number (or social security number) of the care provider. LeValley says you also will need receipts to show proof of payment.

Job search and moving expenses

If you itemize, you can deduct the amount you paid for résumé paper, envelopes, copies, long-distance calls or other expenses you incurred while searching for a job. (See "Job Hunting Can Trim Your Taxes.")You will need receipts or proof of payment for these expenses. Also, you can deduct any membership dues you paid to professional organizations. Ask the association to send you a receipt if you don't have the cancelled check.


You don't have to itemize to write off job-related moving expenses. If you moved more than 50 miles to take a new job, you can deduct the cost of moving your household goods and moving yourself (travel and lodging expenses). And, yes, you'll need receipts or cancelled checks. If your new employer paid for the move, you don't get the write-off.

Medical expenses

Because the ante is so high for deducting medical expenses, few taxpayers benefit from this write-off. (Expenses must exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income.) So you're probably not alone if you've failed to ask for receipts for your medical bills. But LeValley says it shouldn't be too hard to reconstruct your records. Because most medical and dental offices are computerized and have at least a year's worth of records, they should be able to give you receipts for any bills you paid in the past year.

As part of the medical expense tally, you can include travel costs -- 12 cents a mile if you use your own car. If you were unaware of this write-off and failed to keep a travel log, you can reconstruct one, LeValley says. You just need to know the dates of your appointments and the mileage for the trip. However, you'll need receipts for parking fees and tolls. For more details on what expenses are deductible, see IRS Publication 502, "Medical and Dental Expenses."

Tax preparation

Yes, you can write off cost of preparing your taxes if you itemize. So keep those receipts for tax preparation software, such as TaxCut, and books as well as electronic filing, accountant or other fees. However, you can't write off fees for paying taxes with a credit card because they have nothing to do with tax preparation, LeValley says.