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Review: 4 services to keep tax records organized

Tuesday - 4/16/2013, 8:10am  ET

ANICK JESDANUN
AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- If you're like me, you waited until the final days of the tax season to file your returns. And if you're like me, you're thinking there ought to be ways to keep your finances organized throughout the year to avoid the mad scramble as April 15 approaches.

As I procrastinated on doing my taxes, I researched several Web services that can help make tax season smoother next year. These aren't services that help you prepare and file your tax returns. Rather, they're designed to help you track expenses, charitable contributions, investments and other financial data you'll need to enter on tax forms.

Although there's no shortage of websites and mobile apps that will do the job, I haven't found a single service that will do everything I was looking for. But I was able to piece together a collection of four services to do all that. In my research, I gravitated toward the cheaper or free services, as well as those that work on multiple systems, including Android, iPhones and personal computers. I rejected a few simply because they work on just the iPhone or Android, but not both. I also tried to recommend services that do multiple things, so you won't have to keep track of too many accounts and passwords.

You'll still need to keep your W-2, bank and investment tax forms handy. Store them in a shoebox or large envelope as you get them. With that in mind, here's a collection of services that will help you organize the rest of your financial data.

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MINT.COM

A good starting point is this free service from Intuit Inc., which also makes the TurboTax software for preparing returns. You're free to use a competitor to file taxes, though, as there's no syncing between the two beyond links trying to get you to use TurboTax. Mint doesn't make it easy to export data to any tax service, including Intuit's own. But Mint will keep track of the information, which you'll then have to retype into the tax software.

After creating a Mint account, you simply need to add your financial accounts, such as credit card, mutual fund and PayPal. Mint will automatically pull transactions from those accounts. Credit card transactions often will have a category already assigned, based on the merchant. You can change that or add tags such as "taxes" and "charity." You can also manually add transactions paid in cash.

Let's start with investments. Your investment firms should provide you with 1099-DIV and 1099-B forms that summarize dividends earned and sales of any stocks and mutual funds. There may be some cases where you'll need more details on when and how much you bought stocks for. Unfortunately, many banks offer records going only a few months back. But once you add them to Mint, those transactions will stay in the system. So if you use Mint long enough, you'll have all your key information right there.

Banks will also provide 1099-INT forms to summarize interest earned, which you must report as income. But those forms won't be sent if you've earned less than $10 -- not uncommon in these days of low interest rates. With Mint, simply type "interest" into the search box under transactions. You can choose to search specific accounts or all of them.

For me, the most time-consuming aspect of tax returns is gathering the records for deductions. Mint can help, as long as you do some work throughout the year.

-- Medical and work expenses. Tag credit card and check payments as "medical" or "work" throughout the year. Add those you pay by cash. Then when tax time comes, you have the records right there. If you get money back from your insurer or employer, tag those payments as well. You can calculate the net spending when you prepare your returns. If you're not sure whether a particular item is deductible, tag it anyway. You can figure it out come tax time. The idea initially is to help you quickly find those records to review.

-- State and local taxes. Tag these "taxes," whether they are quarterly estimated payments or taxes you pay or get back in refunds with this year's return.

-- Interest payments on mortgage. You can search Mint for payments to your mortgage company. Or if there are multiple companies, tag payments as "mortgage" throughout the year.

-- Charitable contributions. Tag credit card and check payments as "charity" throughout the year. Add those you pay by cash. Keep in mind that the IRS requires receipts from the nonprofit organization in some circumstances. Keep those records in a shoebox, or use one of the options I'll describe below. You'll need another app -- described below -- to track donations of goods.

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