Even if you do all your banking online, there’s still one ugly time of year when you’ve got to deal with a pile of financial paperwork, and that’s tax time. If your accountant accepts forms via email, or you just want to save tax documents on your computer, you want a quick and easy way to do it. While most scanner workflows require several steps to digitize documents, the Fujitsu ScanSnap transforms paper into PDF with a single button press. No one wants to spend more time than they have to on receipts, 1099’s and W-2’s. Let’s take a look at how to instantly capture tax-related and other important paperwork to your hard drive on April 15th and throughout the year with the ScanSnap.
For a scanner, the S300 is very small, weighs in at only 3.7 pounds, and can draw power from a USB connection to your computer. So Fujitsu markets it as a mobile scanner for business travelers (video proof), but we like the small size because it doesn’t clutter your desk like a flatbed scanner. Here’s what it looks like all folded up (quarter included for scale):
The S300 scans two-sided documents smartly, meaning it just ignores the back of a page if it’s blank. It can handle 8 1/2 x 14 pages max as well as smaller receipts and business cards with the option to run optical character recognition (OCR) processing on the document, which makes the resulting PDF text contents searchable. It cannot scan photographs.
I’m no gadget reviewer (leave that to my friends at Gizmodo), but after hearing great things about the ScanSnap from productivity bloggers in search of the paperless lifestyle, we had to give it a try. We weren’t disappointed. Anyone who scans text documents to PDF’s even on just a semi-regular basis would do well to buy the ScanSnap, which is worth its healthy price tag in terms of size, speed, and efficiency.
Here’s one way to put the ScanSnap to good use when it’s that dreaded time of year: income tax return time.
Scan Your W-2’s and 1099’s
Once you’ve installed the ScanSnap software and plugged the unit into your computer, right-click on the ScanSnap Manager icon on your task tray and choose « SCAN Button Settings. » Here you can configure exactly what the ScanSnap does when you hit the big old Scan button. When you’ve got a pile of 1099’s and/or W-2’s in front of you, set the output directory and the file name format in the Save tab, like so:
On the File Option tab, if you check off « Searchable PDF, » the ScanSnap will also perform OCR on the document (though this will slow down the scanning process).
The ScanSnap scans a single 8 1/2 x 11 document in about 15 seconds. With the pictured settings, it will automatically save the PDF to the « 2007 taxes » folder and name the file
2007-income-tax001.pdf (and count up from that number 1 for every following scan.) You can create several custom profiles for the various types of scanning jobs you do (for example, one for receipts and one for income statements.)
Chances are that once you’ve got all your tax forms gathered, they’re all shapes and sizes, from receipts to full-sized W-2 forms. The ScanSnap can handle odd-sized pieces of paper like receipts as well—just adjust the paper guides and scan away, as shown.
Instantly Capture Deduction Receipts Throughout the Year
Anyone who itemizes their tax deductions knows how easy it is to wind up with a giant pile of paper scraps—the receipts from cab rides, dinners, and office supplies purchases from months ago. Receipts fade over time, crumple, get lost, and often don’t show you what the heck they were for in the first place. But with a ScanSnap at the ready, you can zap receipts to PDF as you collect them and annotate the resulting file with information about the details of the expense. As for the scan itself, the ScanSnap automatically trims off the extra white space and zooms right in on the relevant part of the receipt, as shown:
Once the receipt’s in, you can use the file name to note what it was for, or open it in a PDF editor to add notes to the document.
The ScanSnap’s OCR (done by ABBYY FineReader) is pretty good; here’s an example of a searchable PDF it produced. While the S300 software is for Windows only (business travelers, remember?), Mac users who want some ScanSnap magic should get the ScanSnap S510M, which retails for around $400 (Amazon) and isn’t as portable but can chew through a large pile of documents in one shot.
What tools have you used in pursuit of living paperless? Tell us in the comments.
Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, likes her paperwork even better as searchable PDF’s. Her weekly feature, Geek to Live, appears every Monday on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Geek to Live feed to get new installments in your newsreader.