Ask LH: How Should I Track Tax Receipts On My Phone?

Ask LH: How Should I Track Tax Receipts On My Phone?

Hey Lifehacker, What is the best way to keep track of tax claims and receipts? Do I need to hold onto my paper receipts or can I just use my smartphone? If I decide to go fully digital, what are the best mobile tools and apps? Thanks, Changing Tax

Tax receipt gallery from Shutterstock

Dear CT,

As we have noted in the past, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) considers electronic records to be just as valid as paper ones. This includes digital documents that you originally received in paper form, such as scanned receipts. In other words, you don’t need to hang onto your physical records if you don’t want to — virtually any modern phone can be used to photograph your receipts, which gives you a legally-binding copy.

With that said, it’s still a good idea to keep them as a backup for added peace of mind. Store them somewhere dark and cool; especially thermal paper receipts which fade rapidly when exposed to UV light.

Naturally, you should also try to keep your paper records organised: one folder per year is a pretty good system. The ATO requires you to keep tax records for five years from the time you received an assessment relating to that year, so you’ll never need to have more than five separate folders.

When it comes to tracking receipts on your phone, your best bet is probably a document management system such as Evernote, JotNot, iFiles, Pocket orGoogle Keep. These let you scan your documents and keep them safe, backed up and online for easy sharing.

You can also get specialised expense-tracking apps that are designed to store and manage receipts. Expensifiy is a great, free example — it handles everything from paper receipt scanning to auto-generated expense reports based on your online bank statements. The reports can then be converted to a PDF file and sent to your accountant at tax time. Expensify is available on Android, iOS, Windows Phone and Blackberry.

If you prefer to do your own tax returns but still require some organisational help from the experts, it might be worth giving ExpenseMagic a try. This is a non-automated bookkeeping service that involves sending photographs of your receipts to ExpenseMagic’s dedicated staff. The data is then typed into monthly expense reports and sent back to you.

The service is customised for Australian customers, so GST and ABN details aren’t overlooked. You can have up to 100 receipts processed per month. A single block of 30 days costs $14.99, or you can opt for a full year for $6.67 per month.

We’d also like to hear from our readers. How do you track your work expenses and other tax documents? Do you have any favourite apps or DIY hacks to share? Let CT know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Keeping a hard copy “just in case” when the intent is to be rid of the paper originals is counterproductive. Just make sure you aren’t going to lose the electronic version in the first place.

    Check that your your backup regime includes at least two different destinations, preferably three (this stuff isn’t going to be gigabytes in size, so bandwidth or space is not a big concern.)

    • Keeping a hard copy “just in case” when the intent is to be rid of the paper originals is counterproductive.
      Depends on what you’re purchasing. Some stores seem to refuse to accept electronic receipts as proof or purchase for exchange/refund. Which is ridiculous.
      BigW was one for me, so not exactly a small business either

  • Apps are a pain in the behind.
    I just use the camera.

    As long as the receipt is in your camera roll (which is then copied onto the computer regularly) it’s easy to go back and find them for expense claims, or just looking at all your thumbnails of your photos at tax time and copying out all the ones that look like receipts.

    Or setup a gmail account for yourself, and each time you take a photo, email it to your dedicated tax-time email account. That’s much easier than unlocking the phone, finding the right app, taking a photo etc.

    • Apps are a pain in the behind.
      I just use the camera.

      Agreed. It’s worth finding out where the images go.
      NRMA had a great app for photographing serial numbers of your electronic goods as proof of insurance. Serial number, purchase, and cost details were stored in the cloud. Images were stored locally on the phone with no way to get them back after a loss of phone.

      +1 photo app and cloud storage. My receipts get scanned and go to Dropbox

  • The official ATO app has the ability to record and store invoices as well. You can snap a piccie and it keeps it isolated for you. I think you can then upload them to the ATO portal. Only for businesses at the moment, but it wont hurt to give it a look.

    Overall, piccies are always a good idea, then stored somewhere central, whether its gmail or a cloud service. Especially with big transactions, where invoices can be the basis for warranty claims, you dont want the receipt to have faded beyond recognition.

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