Coping: Just How Much Paper and When?

Call me a damn fool (the line usually goes around the block) but this morning I got up early and started working on my 2014 taxes.  One reason?  I’m one of those people banks must hate because I still get paper monthly statements and cancelled checks.

Since a reader sent me a note, I thought I’d explain a bit.  But first the note:

“ummmm…..and how much time did you waste writing that e-mail to the bank?  ….and how much time did all of us waste reading it? …and why are you still writing CHECKS?!!???!!???

I haven’t written a check since I moved to the PRC 5 years ago………..I don’t even know anyone who uses them over here.

Regards,

Expatriated

I trust computers, the internet and the Russians and/or the Chinese not to preemptively strike us with cyber attacks or EMP, about as far as I can throw them.  It’s hackers galore out there.

And, when comes to the Sand People who are trying to hack American interests in case they can’t find a head to slice off, it ain’t politically correct, but I don’t trust them, either.

Since  I don’t trust people, I don’t trust banks. Haven’t since the 2007-2009 collapse.

So hell yes, I write checks.

In courts of law, there are still people who remember about “wet signatures” and other niceties of law and custom.  I NEVER want to be in a position to where someone could accuse me of Photoshopping a phony check.  And I never can be:  I have my original check, the banks real stampy stuff on the back of it, and I meticulously write what the check is for.

To be sure, there’s been this simmering deal about whether real estate transactions recorded electronically are valid.  Seems, so, but depends where, who, which judge, and all that.  Electronics, like people can be fooled and we all remember MERS.

First thing this morning (after shower and coffee) will be a run to town to take care of the annual property taxes,  It will all be paid for on one check, but the parcel ID’s are noted on the check and along with a copy of the payment receipt, the whole thing being scanned, I’ve got a solid “evidence trail” that the money has been paid as due.

Statistically, the odds are small that I would have two equally assessed parcels, but in that case, the need for defining parcel ID’s on the front of the check becomes critical.  Moreover, faced with competing documents in a court, I’m just guessing that cancelled checks, oftentimes in the sealed envelope from the bank, would take precedence over other paper.

Canceled checks for other things seem to matter to me, as well:  If you buy a precious metal asset, like a gold coin, for example, the cancelled check establishes your claim that you paid for “Canadian Maple Leaf 1 oz .,999 fine mint date 1998” rather than stole it.  In today’s world of civil asset forfeitures, having a paper trail could  matter.

Not to be buried in all this paper, I also do keep precise electronic records.  And when an invoice comes in (today is check run day), I simply take the monthly bills and pop them all through the scanner, stamp them scanned, and into the paid bills box they go.

To make the scanning super-fast, I stepped up for a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Deluxe Bundle Scanner for PC (PA03656-B015) which was a bit north of $400.  But it was worth the extra $20 or so for the bundle because that includes Adobe Acrobat Standard X.  I scan manager software is dandy, too.  I literally have an electronic “filing cabinet” setup”  One is called Operations and the other is called Accounting.

The scanner is bloody awful fast: 25 pages per minute and it sheet feeds even things like business cards, so you don’t have a lot of monkey-motion shuffling paper around

Operations are where things related to current projects go.  Legal documents, like our solar co-generation agreement with the local utility company for the solar panels.  Contracts, client nondisclosures and so forth.

The other top-level domain under filing is “Accounting.”

Need the water bill receipt from three years ago?  June, you say?  That’s in…

Accounting>Vendors>Utilities>Water>2011

And, since that would have come in during July of 2011, we could then meander out to the storage room, open up the IRS/2011 Records Box and pull (care to guess what?).

Over time, I am sliding toward more and more electronic recordkeeping, but I’m not completely there yet.  Here is the main difference, as I see it:

Electronic Payment:  Say I pay the taxes today using my credit card.  I get a printed receipt from the County.  Then, 3-months later, they claim the payment wasn’t made.  I go into my credit card receipts and print out what the county says they didn’t get.  They claim that is not on record in their office as being paid and I owe them money.  Since they can’t find it, we go to court and their defense is it was something I made up.  “Mr. Ure owns Photoshop” they allege.  *(I don’t, it’s Corel PhotoDraw, but you see the point).

Paper Check:  Same deal, except this time when they call and say I didn’t pay, I pop online, view front and back of the check (with parcel numbers, remember?) print off a copy (or .pdf and email) and send it to them. 

Let’s say they don’t buy this either even with the parcel list showing on the front and the Big Bank clearing data on the back:  So we go to court and I hand the judge an envelope.  “What’s this, young man?

Right there I know he’s lying through his teeth because I’m an old codger, not a young man.  But since I want to win:  “Your honor in that sealed envelope from (Big Bank) are the returned checks for this period:  Sealed as they arrived.  I request you open it, pull check 12345,  and note the parcels listed for which that evidences payment was made…”

A complete record for a year of living is done when a copy of the whole .PDF archive is tossed into the receipts drawer, along with a .PDF of that year’s TurboTax and supporting spreadsheets on their own CD and when the refund arrives, mileage log out of the car, then all of this goes into a box, labeled on five-sides, and into our storage room it goes. 

Nice and simple.

My son, on the other hand, operates his life exclusively in the Apple iPhone, iPad world and he thinks I am nuts for being such a “Belt and suspenders” kind of guy.

Like our reader, aghast that I’m so archaic and backwards, the kids think I waste time.  But belts and suspenders make sense.   We don’t bother with accumulating a bunch of depreciation.. just Section 179 what we need for the year and when it’s used up, done, broken, toss it out.

Like the car, for example, which does get some business use.  But did we set up a depreciation schedule?  Nope.  Because that means when sold, you get into recaptures and while I know all that stuff, I also realize that life for me is likely around 25-years from this point.  That’d make me 91.

So I ask myself:  “How has belt and suspenders done for you so far?  How do you live?” 

  • Never cheat of chintz on taxes, property taxes are paid promptly, too.
  • Always use the checklist in the airplane and we don’t fly with squawks.
  • Don’t speed, except for 3-over on the Interstates
  • Observe all drinking and driving rules
  • Get the car serviced regularly
  • Maintain both physical and electronic records of all key transactions
  • Health checkups every 6-months
  • Only do drugs as is legal
  • Overpay your taxes a bit.  It’s easy to backslide on a savings plan, but overpaying IRS has been a fine monthly savings plan.  Besides, the money “lost” by letting the government hold it is minimal in today’s interest environment. Oh, and if you worry about the country “getting Cyprus’ed” remember money held by the US Treasury wouldn’t be skimmed, lol.

On the one hand, it could be viewed as a cowardly way to live.  But at another level, it’s the kind of thing that just might help me make it to at least 91. Which pushes out to 9,161 days or so.  That’s because wrapping yourself in a dual layer of both electronic and paper protection reduces stress.  Stress kills.

When I meet other people who are my age, I tend to assess them in a much more general way than I used to.  Gone are the questions about “How did they make their money, and is there something I can learn there?”

Instead come other questions: “Do they have stress?”  “Are they fit and active?”  “Are they always seeking new ideas?”  “Do they buy into the two party political BS?”  “Do they value everyone in their lives as a teacher?”

Above all, stress kills.  Near as I can figure, anything you can do to eliminate stress should be done, just like eliminating inflammation in your body will keep you healthier, longer.

So for me, paper AND electronics is the answer.  A mass hack attack, EMP, country-wrecking earthquakes or pandemic disease?  We’ll still have our little patch of dirt and the paperwork to refute all claims.

Ultimately, you see there is another hierarchy hidden in plain sight:  electrons, paper, and lead. Hopefully, always in that order never getting to the end of the list.  The steely-eyed prepper has all three bases covered, in a serious way.

Only the last two minutes of football matter, and that’s if you can stay awake through the tryptophan overdose from turkey.  Which is why today we have the first six months of data teed up and ready for tax work that will begin in December.  There are many leftovers ahead and that means many naps.

No point stressing through any of them.

Climate Note

From a reader in Connecticut:

At 11:30 at night, it’s 66 degrees in Hartford and 62 degrees 15 miles northwest of there.
In 48 hours, there will be 6 inches of snow in Hartford, and up to a foot 15 miles northwest.

I continued to look into this mid-latitude “mixing” thing from the Arctic being so much warmer, and I found a great analogy used in a couple of climate science articles. They liken the mid-latitude higher-amplitude sine wave for the jet stream to a river flowing through a gentle flat valley with wide back-and-forth curves, rather than a more straight, swift river path when there’s a sharper slope.

Hmmm…still, I have to ask what happened to my point about “let’s put the rainforests back” since they were a critical stabilizing influence on the world’s airshed.  

George   george@ure.net

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