My Computer, the Bookkeeper: It's Never Too Soon to Start Letting Your Computer Do the Heavy Lifting on Satisfying the IRS

About three years ago I was given the Office of Treasurer in our monastery. Now I had a high school accounting class and do have a college major in mathematics. But, of course, that did not prepare me enough for figuring out the perplexing rules of Form 990 required for filing by the IRS for non-profit corporations. Fortunately, the IRS is very lenient with non-profits. When I took over I discovered a number of glaring mistakes on our previous filings. We were never audited - probably because we don't make enough money to concern the IRS.

Now I know I am not alone in frustration trying to understand the IRS. My brother-in-law apparently was going crazy trying to figure out how to file his income tax now that he had purchased another house as rental property. Some people do turn to businesses like H & R Block to fill out their income tax. But even there you still have to keep receipts and some records for the accountant to figure out your finances.

When we sold our monastery in 2001 in Massachusetts, we were forced to put the money in multiple bank accounts so that it would all be FDIC insured. And being frugal monks we wanted to get the highest interest we could on that money so we kept moving it around to different banks. We moved to Florida that same year and seriously neglected financial record keeping for some time. Under those conditions I took over the finances. It was very difficult filling out our income tax that year. I tried to make sense out of multiple bank statements, credit card statements, bookstore inventory, donations, etc. On top of that, I new nothing about Form 990. I actually read all those instructions at the beginning rereading parts many times. Here is where my theology training helped me - I turned to God in prayer to help me out of this seemingly impossible situation. It took another year but He did answer my prayer - in stages.

I told a friend of the monastery about my difficulty keeping track of the finances. She turned around and me her original (not pirated) 1998 version of Quicken software that she no longer used but had found very helpful when she ran her own business. I put it into our computer. It asked me several questions during setup and presto - I had an instant ledger for keeping track of all our finances. Quicken can do much more than just do ledgers. It lets you track your money by preset categories so you know exactly how much and where you are receiving and spending money. Also, you can customize financial reports, print out checks to pay bills, and are even reminded when bills are due. I later upgraded to a newer version. It had a Cash Flow Center, an Investing Center and a Property and Debt Center. There are "Planners" for home purchasing, retirement, college, debt reduction and even "What If" event scenarios. It included the ability over the Internet to download statements from the bank and credit card companies - the latter could be automatically categorized. I was a little hesitant to use our computer for any online banking or credit card access. So to this day I enter these statements in manually. Even so, Quicken allowed me to cut my time spent record keeping and filling out Form 990 for the IRS by 50%!

Then the next miracle happened. A maintenance man came to fix things on our rental house. I was telling him about the difficulty I still had trying to understand IRS instructions for filing income tax. He told me he used TurboTax for his business and it made filling out the forms a snap. My brother-in-law found that program helped him with his rental property dilemma, also. TurboTax downloads the proper IRS forms and walks you through filing them either by printing it out or filing online. Even better, it works hand in hand with your Quicken records since both programs were developed by the same company, Intuit at intuit.com. To top that off, they even guarantee your filing correctly, or they will pay any IRS fees! Unfortunately, I failed to see the Form 990 I needed. I called Intuit and they told me they didn't support nonprofits, yet.

Even though TurboTax didn't help me, it got me searching for form 990 help on the Internet. I found the National Center for Charitable Statistics at form990.org. They offered free Desktop990, the equivalent of TurboTax for nonprofits. I downloaded it and said a "Thanks be to God" prayer when using it. The software helped me fill out the form properly making sure figures balanced correctly throughout the form. Instructions were readily available from both the IRS and their experts on each section as I filled it out. It even had a "verify" option going through my return and pointing out any errors it discovered.

Now there are other software programs out there to help with accounting records. But for financial rookies like me I believe these two programs are best. So if you find yourself elected "Treasurer" of your family or business I believe these two programs will help you be a good steward of the finances!

With all this thinking about how best to manage money, I think we should now turn our attention to the best part: how — and where — to give it. I asked Br. Craig to give me his favorite charitable organizations, which are:

The Catholic Worker (catholicworker.org) needs money donations, as well as warm clothing and blankets for the homeless.

The Catholic Medical Mission Board (cmmb.org) sends medicines, doctors and nurses to Third World countries that lack medical care.

The good works of the Selesian Missions of Don Bosco (salesianmissions.org) are too numerous to itemize. Particularly impressive: their homes for children living in the streets of South America.

Catholic Charities USA (catholiccharities.org) does much that is both commendable and worthy of generous support.

The Columban Mission Fathers (columban.org) help the poor and hungry in many places throughout the world.

Catholic Extension (catholic-extension.org) helps home missions in many ways, including building chapels and supporting evangelization efforts.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org