Tax Return (& Other eDoc) Submission Guidelines

‘Tis the season when I receive dozens of tax returns from my Chapter 13 Bankruptcy clients, as they are required to do each year that they remain in bankruptcy.

But it’s not just my pending Chapter 13 cases.  I receive electronic documents via e-mail from many of my clients throughout the year.  For the most part, there are no issues.  But occasionally there are, and I wanted to go over some of the most common issues to help reduce the number of problematic submissions.

Keep in mind that almost every document I request from my clients (including tax returns, pay-stubs, mortgages, and car titles) will ultimately be turned over to the trustee assigned to their case for review.  A lot of these rules and guidelines are intended to facilitate that transmission.

Do not photograph a document with your cell phone or camera.

The folds, shadows, reflections, and low resolution are all likely to be problems.  Scan documents with a proper scanner.  If you do not have a scanner, please just mail or drop-off a print copy.

Ensure scanner settings create a crisp image.

You don’t have to go nuts on scan resolution and create a 12MB file for a one page document.  But make sure that the scan resolution is good enough that we can read the content on the document.  Assume that at some point along the way, an older person with less-than-perfect eyesight needs to be able to read the document clearly.

300 x 300 dpi is sufficient in most cases.  Higher resolutions may be necessary if the document you’re scanning already has print quality issues or is printed in a small font.  Always open the scanned document and check the quality of the scan.

Save as a PDF, not an image.

You’ll be forgiven if you e-mail a .PNG or .JPG file, but it saves some time and reduces pixelation from multiple file conversions if documents are originally generated as .PDFs.  Free PDF printer drivers are readily available to download from the Internet.

Do not send password-protected documents.

This is a common problem with electronic tax returns, which are encrypted to protect sensitive information.  Even if I have the password, the encryption will prevent me from redacting the social security numbers (and any bank routing or account numbers) from your tax return, which I need to do before I can relay the document to the trustee.  The encryption also prevents me from printing the document to paper, so I can’t even re-scan it and then redact the numbers.

I care about protecting your confidential information, but ironically, the password protection prevents me from properly securing your document before transmitting it to the Trustee.

Ideally, electronic documents should be scanned versions of printed paper.  There is meta data encoded into the original digital file, and the best way to scrub that data clean is to print the file to paper and then scan the paper.

Do not use 3rd party cloud services.

Assuming that I can even access the file (which is hit or miss), many of these files will be encrypted or password-protected – inhibiting the redaction and printing functions described above.

Also, some cloud services require me to register an account to use them.  For the hundreds of clients I have, I cannot possibly (and won’t) create separate accounts just to access an electronic file.

If sending paper documents that aren’t already stapled, please don’t staple them.

Chances are, I’ll need to scan the documents, and staple holes tend to make papers stick together and jam in the scanner.  The fewer staples I need to remove, the better.

Only a few pages of tax returns are necessary.

There are only a few pages of a tax return I’ll need.  In most cases, each year of a tax return is 5 pages.  That’s two pages for the federal 1040 form and three pages for a standard Wisconsin Form 1 tax form.

If applicable, I also need federal schedules – especially any Schedule C, Schedule D, Schedule E, or Schedule SE.  These are mostly for people who run businesses, are otherwise self-employed, or have rental income.

I do not need cover sheets, summaries, comparisons, W2s, 1099s, worksheets, or other extraneous pages unless I specifically request them for some special reason.

When in doubt, send me everything and I’ll sort it out. But if you don’t want to send a 50 page document, know that there are usually only 5 pages I’m looking for each year.