PHOENIX — Hurricane season starts today and the Internal Revenue Service advises individuals and businesses to safeguard their records against natural disasters by taking a few simple steps.
Create an Electronic Additional Set of Records
Taxpayers should keep a duplicate set of records including bank statements, tax returns, identifications and insurance policies in a safe place such as a waterproof container, and away from the original set.
Keeping an additional set of records is easier now that many financial institutions provide statements and documents electronically, and much financial information is available on the Internet. Even if the original records are only provided on paper, these can be scanned into an electronic format. This way, taxpayers can save them to the cloud, download them to a storage device such as an external hard drive or USB flash drive, or burn them to a CD or DVD.
Another step a taxpayer can take to prepare for a disaster is to photograph or videotape the contents of his or her home, especially items of higher value. The IRS has a disaster loss workbook, Publication 584 (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p584.pdf), which can help taxpayers compile a room-by-room list of belongings.
A photographic record can help an individual prove the fair market value of items for insurance and casualty loss claims. Ideally, photos should be stored with a friend or family member who lives outside the area.
Update Emergency Plans
Emergency plans should be reviewed annually. Personal and business situations change over time as do preparedness needs. 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 your plans ahead of time and practice them.
Check on Fiduciary Bonds
Employers who use payroll service providers should ask the provider if it has a fiduciary bond in place. The bond could protect the employer in the event of default by the payroll service provider.
IRS Ready to Help
If disaster strikes, an affected taxpayer can call 866-562-5227 to speak with an IRS specialist trained to handle disaster-related issues.
Back copies of previously-filed tax returns and all attachments, including Forms W-2, can be requested by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506.pdf). Alternatively, transcripts showing most line items on these returns can be ordered by calling 800-908-9946 or by using Form 4506T-EZ, Short Form Request for Individual Tax Return Transcript (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506tez.pdf) or Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506t.pdf).