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Need to scan your tax documents? Use your phone’s camera

Using your phone or tablet’s camera, you can scan tax documents and save them to your device.

Josh Miller/CNET

This story is part Taxes 2022CNET’s coverage of the best tax software and everything you need to file your return quickly, accurately and on time.

It’s that time of year again: tax season. That means you’ve probably already received these important documents from your employer that help you file your 2021 tax returns. If your company submitted your W-2 or 1099 forms electronically, you’re ready to file your taxes online. (maybe through TurboTax or H&R Block). If you received the documents by mail, you will need to scan the forms first.

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This way you can easily upload the files to whatever service you use and not have to manually enter all of your information, like your tax ID and sources of income, which could be a pain if you have more complicated taxes.

However, you can convert any physical tax documents you have into digital format using just your phone or tablet. Whether you have an iOS or Android device, there are built-in tools on iPhone or Android that let you use your camera to quickly scan a physical document and easily convert it to PDF. Here’s how.

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You can use the Files app to scan physical documents on iOS.

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How to scan your tax documents with your iPhone or iPad

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you have several ways to scan your documents with your camera, but we’ll focus on using the Files app. This method is preferred because the document is saved in Files, making it easy to edit and share on your computer or other device.

1. To start, open the Files application.

2. Then press the three dot menu icon top right.

3. To hit Scan documents.

Your camera will then open and you will be prompted to position the document in view. The best way to scan your tax document is to place it on a flat surface, such as a table or desk, in a well-lit area. Move away from white surfaces or surfaces that reflect too much light, otherwise the camera will not be able to scan the document properly.

Now position the phone or tablet so that it is directly above the document and you will see a blue overlay appear over the document indicating that it is being scanned. If the document is scanned successfully, it will automatically be placed in your completed scans, allowing you to scan more documents if desired.

You can then tap the document preview at the bottom left to rescan or edit your documents. You can crop them – in case auto-digitizing wasn’t great – and add a filter (like grayscale) to improve their readability. If you are satisfied with the scans, press to safeguard to store the document as a PDF in the Files app. You can then rename the document or share it via email. If you plan to file your taxes on your mobile device, you can also upload the PDF to any tax app through the Files app.

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On Android, you can scan tax documents with Google Drive.

Nelson Aguilar/CBS

How to scan your tax papers with your Android

On Android, there are several ways to scan documents, but it usually varies slightly depending on the phone model. While the Pixel 6 and S21, for example, both have a document scanner built into the Camera app, the OnePlus 9 Pro and Moto G Power don’t. So instead we’ll be scanning documents via the Google Drive app, which technically isn’t built-in, but most Android devices have the Google Drive app pre-installed, so that’s just as good.

1. First, open the Google Drive application.

2. Then press the blue + button at the bottom right.

3. Then press To analyse.

With your physical tax document laid flat on a non-reflective surface, place the camera directly on the paper and position it in the frame. Make sure the tax document is in focus, then press the shutter button to take a photo. If the picture looks good, press Okay. You should then see an automatically cropped image of your tax document. You can then add a filter to the document (such as black and white), rotate it, and change the borders. If you want to add more documents, press the + bottom left icon.

If you are satisfied with your scans, press to safeguard at the bottom right. Then you can give the document a name, choose an account (in case you have more than one) and select a folder to save the document to (in PDF format). Once you’ve done that, press to safeguard again bottom right. With your tax document saved on Google Drive, you can add comments, search for it via keywords and of course share it via email or directly on any tax apps you might have on your Android.

Now that it’s tax season, you might have some questions. If you want to know more, check out these 13 best tax deductions to look forward to in 2022 and how your solar panels can make you money.

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