Tax season officially started this week, and the Internal Revenue Service is attempting to paint it in the best light possible—shutdown and new tax law notwithstanding. The agency today said it is expecting to issue refunds within 21 days of when it receives and accepts a return—the same as always.

But the potential for another government shutdown in three weeks, combined with the complexities of the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, could make many taxpayers more anxious than ever about getting their taxes done properly and promptly.

“When people are concerned and nervous, things can slip through the cracks,” says Howard Hook, a certified public accountant and principal at EKS Associates, a fee-only financial planning company in Princeton, N.J. 

That’s why organizing your paperwork in advance of your appointment is a wise move. The more information you can provide up front, the better your tax preparer can deal with any thorny issues posed by the new tax law.

And saving the preparer time—from sorting through your envelopes of tax documents or reminding you of documents you need to provide—can save you in preparer fees. (The typical state and federal return will cost $188, according to the National Society of Accountants, based in Alexandria, Va.)

So consider these tips to save your preparer time and potentially save yourself money.

Get Organized

Keep a close eye on the mail, and separate any envelopes with the words “tax information” or “tax documents.” Print the tax documents you’ve been sent electronically. Your preparer also may supply you with a password-protected website address, so you can share electronic versions securely.

Before visiting the tax preparer, sort your paper documents by category. If you have several income documents, group them into subcategories: W-2s and 1099s, for instance.

To help in your document collection, ask your preparer for a tax-organizer worksheet or checklist—that is, a paper or electronic document to fill out in advance. Be aware that gathering your tax documents and filling out the organizer might take a couple of hours the first time you do it. 

The checklists also don’t always account for everything in your financial life, however, so check below for some commonly overlooked items you may need to take to your appointment as well.

More on Taxes

Even if you’re paying a flat fee rather than an hourly fee, there’s a benefit to preparing the paperwork yourself.

“Organizing tax documents can make the tax preparation process go more smoothly,” says Gil Charney, director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block, the tax-preparation company based in Kansas City, Mo.

Take the previous year’s (2017) state and federal tax returns and supporting documents to the appointment. If you’re scheduled for a meeting early in the tax season, you may find that you’re missing certain items for your 2018 taxes—for example, IRS Form 1099-DIV, reporting dividend income from an investment house, sometimes arrives later.

Still, your tax preparer should be able to get started if you provide most of your documents. That’s especially true if your tax situation hasn’t changed much from last year.

If you’re meeting a new preparer, take the last three years’ worth of returns and supporting worksheets, says Eric Bronnenkant, a CPA and head of the tax department at Betterment, an online investment company based in New York.

Your tax history is particularly important if you reported investment losses in prior years. You may be able carry over and claim a portion of those losses on subsequent returns.

“It’s common to lose carryovers when switching accountants,” Bronnenkant says. “This potentially creates a situation where you could pay substantially more in taxes.” 

Remember These Documents

Tax experts say clients often forget to supply a number of documents, delaying the time it takes to complete tax forms. You can speed things up by taking them with you if they apply to your situation.

  • Supporting documents for an after-tax IRA contribution to a traditional IRA. If you don’t report the contribution using IRS Form 8606, you could end up paying double tax when you eventually take a distribution, Bronnenkant says. That’s because the IRS will assume, incorrectly, that you didn’t pay tax on the original contribution and will expect you to pay that tax when you take a distribution. (Done correctly, an after-tax IRA contribution is taxed only on the earnings, not on the original contribution.)
  • The closing letter for a home-mortgage refinance. 
  • Real-estate tax receipts if you don’t pay those taxes through escrow.
  • The taxpayer-ID numbers, addresses, and phone numbers of child-care providers.
  • Expenses that still can be itemized, including charitable contributions; mortgage interest for loans up to $750,000 for joint filers ($375,000 for single filers); and medical expenses that exceed certain income limits. Far fewer items can be deducted now—and only about 10 percent of Americans are expected to itemize for tax year 2018. Still, you may not know whether you’ll benefit from itemizing or taking the higher standard deduction until your preparer does the calculations, Charney says. What’s more, your state may still let you deduct some items, like unreimbursed employee business expenses, that the federal law no longer permits. “Hold on to that documentation until you find out what your state allows,” he says.
  • Proof that you’ve paid estimated quarterly tax payments. Without it, you could end up paying the same tax twice—at least temporarily. “The IRS will still credit your account when they process your return, and the extra payment will be returned as part of a bigger refund or smaller balance due,” Charney says. “But you’ll be out the cash in the meantime.”
  • Proof from any charity where you made a qualified charitable distribution directly from your IRA. (People 70½ and older can contribute up to $100,000 directly from an IRA to a charity and shave that amount off their taxable income. “If the taxpayer doesn’t provide this information to their accountant, the accountant will treat the distribution as taxable,” Bronnenkant says.

If by early February you don’t have all the documents you need, follow up with employers, investment companies, or any others that may have generated taxable income.

Forgetting to report income could invite a notice—though not necessarily an audit—from the IRS, Charney says. What’s more, getting those documents ready now gives you the opportunity to prepare and file as soon as possible.

“Filing as early as reasonably possible has its benefits, such as a faster refund or reducing the risk of tax identity fraud,” he says.