Preparing to file your taxes is no fun, even if your tax situation is simple and straightforward. No matter what, you still have to gather all the forms you get and save them for several years in case the IRS comes knocking.
I have a relatively simple process for how I save and name my forms so that they’re easy to find while I’m doing my taxes and well into the future, should I ever need them again—which you very well might, not only for the IRS but also potentially for big loans, like a mortgage. My way of doing it isn’t right or wrong, but it is a clear and simple system. If you need some help, give it a try.
1. Create a Folder on Your Computer (or Phone) and Name It ‘2024’
Start by making a folder for the current year and naming it “2024.” I use each year’s folders to store documents, photos, videos, and any other files that were created or relevant in this year. I have folders like this going back to 2005.
2. Back Up the Folder Somewhere Secure
Make sure that the folder you created is backed up somewhere secure. It doesn’t matter if you use a simple cloud storage and file syncing program, like Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, or backup software as long as you back it up.
3. Create a Subfolder Called ‘2023 Taxes’
Stick with me here. You’re doing your taxes in the year 2024, but the filing that you’re preparing is for tax year 2023. If the IRS ever asks you about your tax filing, it’s going to refer to the tax year. Yes, it’s confusing, but doing it this way will make things easier in the long run.
I came up with this particular organizing and naming method for the subfolder after several years of debating the best way to handle it. This setup has not failed me yet. I always go to the current year folder to work on my taxes, and if I need to do a quick search for, say, my tax return from 2019, I know I can search 2019 Taxes, and the correct folder will turn up.
4. Put Your Tax Forms Into the Subfolder
Put all the tax forms you receive into the subfolder corresponding to the correct tax year. Many people now receive digital copies of their tax forms via email or a secure web portal. If you receive any paper forms, scan them so you have a digital copy.
5. Use This Naming Convention for All the Forms You Receive
All the forms you put into the folder need a file name. Use this convention, which is designed to give you exactly the information you need quickly and efficiently every time you have to refer to your tax documents (I break down exactly what it means below):
Year refers to the tax year.
Name refers to your name. I include it so that my tax forms aren’t confused with any from other family members. In my family, I’m the only one with the last name Duffy, so I use that.
Form refers to the name of the form, like W-2, 1099-MISC, 1099-INT. If you receive a form that doesn’t have a clear name on it, make a guess as to its importance and slot that in instead, like Rental-Property-Income.
Institution refers to the entity that sent you the form, so the name of your employer, bank, investment firm, property management company, and so on.
A quick note on the underscores: You don’t need them. When I first learned to use computers, putting blank spaces into a file or folder name would mess it up, so I trained myself to use underscores and hyphens, and the habit stuck. Spaces aren’t a problem now, however, so feel free to use them if you like.
There’s a reason I put the pieces of the file name in the order you see above—year, name, form, institution. When all the files are in a folder sorted by the default method (alphabetized), they automatically fall into an order that makes it dead simple to find what you need. All the forms belonging to you are grouped together. All your 1099s are together. If you need to find, say, a 1099-INT from Bank X, your eye goes right to the 1099 group and you see “BankX” in the name quickly. Voilà. There’s the form you want.
6. Use a Slightly Different Naming Convention for Other Documents
You may have more documents related to your taxes that you want to save that aren’t standardized forms. For example, if you’re claiming any medical deductions or other tax write-offs, you might have receipts, spreadsheets, and other files.
Recommended by Our Editors
Save all these documents to the same subfolder. If you have a lot of files pertaining to other areas, like business expenses, you might make yet another subfolder for those. Then change the naming convention used above just slightly and rename these files. Here’s an example:
7. Create One More Subfolder for Copies of Your Filings and Receipts
The last step is to create one more subfolder to keep copies of the tax return you file and other receipts you get when you file. Name it something like
It doesn’t matter if you use tax software or have an accountant who does your taxes. You will always get a final copy of your filing. (If you file on paper, scan all the pages of your final federal and state returns and upload them to your subfolder before you put them in envelopes and mail them.) When your tax software or account e-files the returns, you also get a receipt. Save that to your Final Filings folder as well.
Should you rename all the files that go into this folder as well to make them easy to find? You can, and it would be a best practice to do so, but by this point, you’re probably sick of doing taxes and don’t want to do any more work. That’s fine! Your system is already set up well enough that if you skip the final step, you should still be able to find what you need with minimal trouble.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Worry About Doing It Perfectly
And that’s the real beauty of it: You don’t have to do every step exactly as I say, but if you do most of them, you’ll be organized enough that you’ll never feel frustrated looking for your tax documents. Looking back through my folders, I have unintentionally deviated from my naming convention several times, but I still have enough information in the right places to help guide me to what I need fairly quickly. You don’t have to be perfect, but putting in the work now will help future you.
Get Our Best Stories!
Sign up for What’s New Now to get our top stories delivered to your inbox every morning.