With the approaching start of the Atlantic hurricane season June 1, the Internal Revenue Service is encouraging people to safeguard their records.
There are some simple steps that can help individuals and businesses protect financial and tax records in the event of hurricanes and other disasters.
Many people receive bank statements and documents electronically. This method is an outstanding way to protect financial records. You can scan important tax records such as W-2s, tax returns and other paper documents onto an electronic format.
Be sure you back up your electronic files and store them in a safe place. Making duplicates and keeping them in a separate location is a good business practice. Other options include copying files onto a CD or DVD or other electronic storage device.
When choosing a place to keep your important records, convenience to your home should not be your primary concern. Remember, a disaster that strikes your home is also likely to affect other facilities nearby, making quick retrieval of your records difficult and maybe even impossible.
The IRS has disaster loss workbooks for individuals and businesses to help you compile a room-by-room list of your belongings or business equipment. This will help you recall and prove the market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims.
One option is to photograph or videotape the contents of your home and/or business, especially items of greater value. You should store the photo or videotape in a safe location away from the geographic area at risk.
Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time and so do preparedness needs. Individual taxpayers should make sure they are saving important documents including W-2s, home closing statements and insurance records. When employers hire new employees or when a company or organization changes functions, plans should be updated accordingly and employees should be informed of the changes.
Make sure you have a means of receiving severe weather information. If you have a NOAA Weather Radio, put fresh batteries in it. Make sure you know what you should do if threatening weather approaches.
In the event of a disaster, the IRS stands ready to help. If disaster strikes, an affected taxpayer can call 1-866-562-5227 to speak with an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues.
The IRS also has valuable information you can request if your records are destroyed.
Immediately after a casualty, you can request a copy of a return and all attachments including Form W-2 by using Form 4506.
If you just need information from your return, you can order a transcript by calling (800) 829-1040 or using Form 4506-T. There is no fee for a transcript. Transcripts are available for the current year and returns processed in the three prior years.
The following pages contain information regarding disaster preparedness, what to do when a disaster strikes along with recent disaster announcements and other useful information:
n Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief for Individuals and Businesses (http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=156138,00.html)
n Reconstructing Your Records (http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=152317,00.html)
n Publication 552, Recordkeeping for Individuals (http://www.irs.gov/publications/p552/index.html)
n Publication 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records (http://www.irs.gov/publications/p583/index.html)
Michael Dobzinski, a media relations specialist with the Internal Revenue Service in Plantation, Fla., can be reached at (954) 423-7640.