NEW YORK – As I procrastinated on doing my taxes, I researched several Web services that can help make tax season smoother next year. They're designed to help you track expenses, charitable contributions, investments and other financial data you'll need to enter on tax forms.
A good starting point is this free service from Intuit. 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 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.
For me, the most time-consuming aspect of tax returns is gathering the records for deductions. As long as you do some work throughout the year, Mint can help you tag and keep track of medical and work expenses, state and local taxes, interest payments on your mortgage, and charitable contributions.
One thing Mint isn't good with is keeping track of cash payments. You need to enter those manually. Expensify can supplement Mint if you often pay with cash. Like Mint, Expensify can grab data from your bank, credit card and PayPal accounts. It doesn't handle investments, though. Expensify goes beyond Mint by letting you submit cash transactions simply by photographing a receipt with a camera phone, uploading a scanned image from a computer or emailing a receipt to a supplied address. Expensify will then pull relevant data, such as the date, merchant and amount.
Expensify has tagging like Mint. The service is free for the first 10 receipts automatically processed. After that, it's 20 cents each. To avoid the fee, you can manually enter data. Free apps are available for Apple, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices.
The iDonatedIt app is good for tracking your non-cash donations to goodwill. You add items one by one and say whether it's in “good,” “better” or “best” condition. The app then estimates the fair-market value of that item and calculates a total.
The $2.99 app comes from the BMG accounting firm. Versions are available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Don't expect much from the Android version, though.
If you're on the road a lot for work, consider MileBug to keep track of your mileage and related expenses. The $2.99 app is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Phone devices. There's no version for regular computers, but these are things better handled from a mobile device as you travel.
To use it, simply add the odometer readings at the start and end of your trip. MileBug calculates the costs, based on the IRS' published rates. There's room to add expenses for parking, tolls, lodging and meals.
For some people, Mint will be enough to keep you organized. Expensify is better for tracking cash payments and paper receipts, iDonatedIt will help with non-cash donations and MileBug is ideal for those on the road for work a lot.