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Tax time cometh: Get your records in order with this document scanner

Do you need a document scanner to do your taxes? Of course not. But having one is a huge help for staying organized and having access to all your important documents.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

The approach of tax time for the majority of Americans brings with it one of the more excruciating aspects of this special season: the need to organize your records. And for now, this ritual continues to involve lots and lots of....paper.

Over the years, I've found that using a scanner is an essential element to managing my small professional business. Having my records online (and, in particular, in the cloud) has been valuable. Let me explain some of the reasons:

Finding documents: If you use a service like Google Workspace or Evernote that OCRs your documents when it stores them, you can quickly find documents and forms -- even if they originated on paper.

Reducing physical space: I've been scanning in most of my documents for years, so rather than keeping a couple of huge file cabinets of paperwork, it's all available on my local server and in the cloud.

Quick filing: Rather than digging through lots of physical file folders trying to figure out where to file an individual piece of paper, I just scan in documents, name their PDFs something relevant, and store them on the server in relevant folders. Sometimes I will even scan in a stack of documents that are related to the same topic and save them in one PDF.  

Easy prep: This one's particularly appropriate for tax preparation. I always make a copy of our previous year's tax PDFs and move them into my working folder, so that I can easily compare without navigating back and forth between my working folder and original archives. This also ensures that I don't change something in the archival folder by mistake, since I am working with a copy in another location.

Disaster management: Having my paperwork stored in the cloud has been incredibly valuable. There have been occasions when I've been away from my office, dealing with emergencies, when I have needed to access my business and family records remotely. This has proved absolutely mission-critical, both in family matters and work situations. Having most of our data in the cloud helped immeasurably when we were displaced by a hurricane.

That's why I'm such a proponent of having a scanner for your work. But the key to this is having a document scanner that can read in a stack of pages at once. I don't have time to individually place a sheet of paper face down one by one and hit scan. Instead, I much prefer being able to pop in a stack and get both sides scanned and turned into a PDF with a single button press.

The elephant in the cloud

Before we move on to discuss the scanner I'm reviewing, I want to discuss the elephant in the cloud: The security of cloud storage. I'm recommending two ways to store your documents. The first is locally, either on your computer or as my wife and I do, on our local NAS. This lives behind your firewall, and assuming you take normal precautions, should be reasonably concerned.

Also: How to secure your Google account and keep it safe from attacks

For me, the game changer has been storing my documents in the cloud. There is definitely a security implication. I store most of my documents in Google's cloud as well as on Evernote, so I'm relying on their security. To be honest, I'm not much more concerned about Google or Evernote being hacked because I'm so entrenched with their services anyway. Every email I get travels through Gmail, so Google is up and in my life anyway. If any company is going to be secure from outside intervention, it's probably Google. 

I'm a little less confident about Evernote and I moved my confidential documents from Evernote to Google back in 2015 and 2016 when Evernote began having some troubles although I still pay for their premium service because it's a good resource in other areas.

That said, I know a bunch of you distrust Google, concerned that the company's algorithms are going to read your documents. It's a fair concern. I've also been concerned about the company's policy when it comes to changing storage availability.

But I will tell you this: the benefits -- the real-world tangible benefits I've actually derived in times of crisis -- of having all my documents available in the cloud, on my phone, at any time, everywhere, has well outweighed any theoretical concerns I might have about how well Google is protecting them.

Image: Canon (Ok, and the coffee thing was all David)

Enter the Canon ImageFORMULA DR-C225 II. Gotta love that name!

This Canon ImageFORMULA scanner can scan in lots of stuff besides traditional 8x10 sheets of paper. You can scan in actual credit cards, ID cards, postcards, business cards, and even those absurdly long super-thin receipts you get from the big box hardware store and grocery store.

This thing has a 30-sheet automatic feeder. It can scan 25 pages per minute -- mostly. Keep in mind that if you scan thicker items (like credit cards) it will take fewer than 30 items. In practice, I found that more complex scans take a little longer. But it scans fast enough that I did not notice any annoying delay, and that's what counts.

Canon sent the scanner to me this week, so I can't really speak to long-term reliability yet, but so far so good. I checked out the Amazon reviews for clues about long-term reliability. There were a few feeder complaints, but I've found that most multi-page feeders are a little fussy until you find their sweet spot. Before this, we used a couple of no-longer-sold Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners, which all required an occasional bit of cleaning and placing the pages just-so before they did perfect scans. They also required that pick rollers and such be replaced relatively regularly, so consumables were involved. There is a roller replacement kit available for this Canon scanner, as well.

Interestingly, the product also comes with a one-year subscription to a receipt management service called Dext (previously Receipt Bank). This is a tool mostly intended for bookkeepers and accountants, but if you want to be able to automatically flow your receipts into an accounting app like QuickBooks, you can do it with this service. After the year, you'll have to contract with Dext. Their pricing is in the $10-20 per month range for smaller businesses depending on what capacities and features you need.

One thing I particularly like about the Canon scanner is that it scans vertically. Basically, you drop in documents like toast into a toaster, it scans, and then it spits the documents out the top, again like toast popping out of a toaster. My ScanSnaps were awesome, but I had to use up a big chunk of my desk while scanning because the sheets came out of the front of the machines, which took up a substantial footprint area on the desk. You can set the ImageFORMULA DR-C225 II next to your monitor and use it without taking up much more space than a full-size box of tissues.

We're still a long way from a paperless world

Do you need a scanner to do your taxes? Of course not. But having one is a big help. And it's not just about doing the taxes. It's also about organizing the taxes, having access to those documents easily, and saving space. Seven plus years of tax files can be a real space hog, but they don't have to be if you get yourself a nice scanner.

Beyond taxes, it's also about organizing and having access to other important documents and saving space. For me, the two most mission-critical areas have been bookkeeping and family documents. I was responsible for managing my parents' affairs for their last years and having quick and easy anywhere access to the thousands of pages of obscure medical, legal, and care documents proved absolutely essential to their ongoing care -- and that was made possible by a document scanner.

My wife and I also have a folder of product manuals. Any we can't find online in PDF format we scan in when we bring in new gear. Then, finding the product and the manual becomes a quick search away.

We also still get most of our bills in the mail. Usually, when a company gives us the opportunity to go paperless, we don't choose it. That's because we've sometimes found that companies only keep their detailed online records for a year or two, so if you go paperless with them, you can't go back more years and find a line-item you might need. But by getting the paper statements, which we then scan, we can store all our records and have them retrievable permanently.

Plus, if you ever find yourself in a moving car in the middle of a desert, a hundred miles from the nearest gas station, and there's a family emergency that requires finding an obscure document within five minutes, you'll appreciate the benefit of scanning and cloud storage. And no, I never expected to be put in that situation either, and yes, I did stop the car first. #Adulting.

Fun fact: The first year I started my business, I stored all my documents and receipts in a giant Mac Plus carry bag. The bookkeeper I hired to clean up my mess looked at me, looked at the bag, looked back to me, clucked a few times, and simply shook her head. Don't be like young me. Scan and organize. It'll be a lot less expensive, and way better for your self-esteem than hiring a disapproving bookkeeper.

What about you? How do you manage your paperwork? Have you been scanning documents and storing them in the cloud or do you store them in another way?

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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