Feeling overwhelmed by piles of tax files on your desk?
Use our tax time scanning survival tips to turn those tax files into paper free smiles today!
Scanning tax documents into digital images makes file storage, management (including search and retrieval) and sharing with clients SO much easier for both yourself and your clients. In fact, more than 70% of accountants are scanning tax files before, during and after tax preparation to save time, money and improve client service.
Whether you’re thinking of purchasing a scanner to move your accounting practice along the paperless path or are already scanning records but want to become more efficient, then check out this list of great tips that you can use to get the most out of your tax time scanning activities!
26 Top Scanning Survival Tips for Tax Pros at Tax Time (and beyond…):
1. Use good equipment. Buy or upgrade to a professional quality, high-speed, automatic document feed scanner. The difference in performance is worth the initial price difference, and with life cycle of at least 3-5 years, the total cost of ownership can’t be beaten.
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2. One word: Duplex. It’s a drag having to flip a page over to scan both sides, and you won’t save any time that way. If you don’t have a duplex scanner, get one before you continue.
2a. And another word? Flatbed. Not all papers will easily go through a document feeder. You won’t need it often, but they are reasonably priced, and you’ll be glad you have one for those over-sized or delicate papers.
3. Color isn’t (usually) necessary. Generally, it simply takes more space in your digital storage. If possible, scan documents in black-and-white.
4. Preparation matters. Scanners and paperclips (or staples) are not good friends. Remove paperclips and straighten papers before you put them in the feeder. You might even consider taping smaller papers to a full-size sheet of paper to run through the scanner – it’s what professional scanning operations like ours do – it works! You, and your scanner, will be much happier, and you’ll save a lot of money on repairs.
5. Flip first, be happy later. Try to scan documents right side up and top-oriented. Skip this process, and you’ll be flipping images all day. Not fun, or efficient.
6. DO NOT OVERFEED YOUR SCANNER. Shove too many pages in at once, and it will jam, or worse, break. Trust us, it happens, and it’s definitely NOT fun to fix.
7. Scanners do require care and feeding. Simple, regular maintenance routines will ensure the longevity of your scanner as well as the quality of your images.
8. Scan to PDF. PDFs are definitely preferable to scanning to image formats (like jpg). PDFs can be easily combined into one document package or set for storage and sharing, which will save both you and your client a great deal of time when viewing the digital files (Think: turning pages vs opening separate files.) If your current scanner isn’t capable of scanning directly to PDF, consider getting one that will.
9. Scan at the resolution (dots-per-inch, or DPI) level recommended by the scanner. Basically, you can’t improve the quality of a low-resolution file after its scanned.
10. Avoid using too high of a resolution. Much like color images, the higher the resolution, the larger the file. Large files take up lots of digital warehouse space, are slow to open, and hard to share with others. Select the lowest resolution level that still results in quality images.
11. Receipts can be tricky, but the results are worth it. In fact, our clients report that receipts are actually easier to read in digital format than in the original. Just make sure to capture both sides and any notes that may be on the receipt. They also tend to scan better if you run them through the scanner one at a time.
12. Train your clients to scan receipts and send them to you in digital format. This has multiple benefits: it saves you time, plus, if the receipts are scanned immediately, the thermal paper doesn’t fade into an illegible mess.
13. Scan ‘em when you get ‘em. Basically when the papers come in, scan them right away. And, if you have time, when you pull a customer file, scan it before you put it away. Try to make this a habit, at least for the current year’s taxes.
14. Have multiple employees? Consider one scanner for every desktop. In the end, our customers generally find that it is more cost and time-efficient to purchase several smaller professional quality scanners than one centralized scanner.
15. An all-in-one unit is not a production scanner. These will seldom offer the type of speed and quality you will need to get your work done efficiently. Get a dedicated unit for the job.
16. Consider back file scanning for your old records. Converting a room full of boxes takes time. A lot of time. Consider having professionals do this work for you.
17. Practice makes perfect. An hour or so spent learning the features of your scanner will save you hours of work later and will help to eliminate frustration down the road when you need to adjust settings, flip images, or whatever needs to be done to get the image quality you need.
18. Use a vendor that will help you get set up and trained to use your scanner. While ordering from a drop-ship vendor may save you a little money, you won’t be able to get the help you need from them when you will undoubtedly need it. A good vendor will help you to get underway quickly, and will likely also help you to select the best scanner for your needs and budget.
19. Get reviews and references for any specific system and software. PC Magazine did one on scanners recently.
20. You can use your scanned files to fill in forms. You need 3 things for this to work: A good scanner, OCR (optical character recognition) software to read the images, and good quality images.
21. Yes, scanned files (digital images) are admissible as evidence for tax cases. This link will take you to exactly what the IRS has to say about electronic tax records.
23. Back. Up. Your. Files. This is not optional. And store your backups somewhere outside of your office.
24. Security matters. You must protect the integrity of your digitized client records to the same degree you would protect your paper files.
25. Consider a secure cloud storage option. This will make backup a piece of cake, and will facilitate file sharing with your clients. And, despite recent news, it is possible to create secure cloud storage areas for your files. Note: These are generally paid services- few, if any of the free services offer the level of security you need for client records. (If you’re unsure what secure cloud storage really entails, check here.)
26. Now that you’re digital, invest in a document management system. These tools will save you time and money. In fact, industry reports consistently state that the average customer sees a measurable return on their investment in these tools within no more than 2 years, and often in less than 14 months.