Don't Skimp on Scanners


Another tax season is coming and with it come renewed vows of “going paperless”—or at least going in that direction.


The CPAs who have gone completely paperless—scanning in the beginning of the process, using triple monitors so the third screen replaces the physical source docs and essentially never touching a piece of paper during preparation—say they’d never go back. But most of them admit getting there wasn’t easy, and one of the most common mistakes they confess is that they invested in cheap scanners that made tax season “miserable.”


Scanning is an essential part of the paperless process. Even in the first phase of the multistep process of getting to that paperless utopia, scanning takes center stage. The problem with “cheap” scanners is you get what you pay for. A survey of 450 firms about their experiences during the 2008 tax season by tax software automation vendor Copanion pointed to various challenges accountants faced, including slow scanning, trouble scanning documents of different sizes, and problems identifying and organizing documents after they were scanned, to name a few.


And if they don’t trust the scanners to do the job, they have to spend time making sure all of the documents are there, in the right order and readable—not a very productive use of a tax preparer’s time.


When making purchasing decisions, pay attention to things such as speed (a minimum of 30 to 40 pages per minute is recommended), whether it can scan both sides of a page simultaneously (duplex), and whether it can feed pages of multiple sizes and thicknesses simultaneously (like W-2s and receipts).


Reliable scanners don’t have to break the bank, though some of the heavy duty ones can cost up to $4,000. One lower-cost option for smaller organizations without loads of documents is Fujitsu’s ScanSnap S1500. While it scans only about 20 pages per minute, it automatically rotates information based on content (so the pages are in the correct direction), allows multiple-size documents to be fed simultaneously, and increases the resolution for the smaller pieces of paper, making them more readable. It costs about $495.


For better speed, the same vendor offers the Fujitsu fi-6140, which handles 60 pages per minute and comes bundled with imaging software. It was listed on various Web sites for $1,500 to $2,000.


Other popular brands include Canon, HP and Xerox. Xerox’s Web site lets customers check off features that are important to them, such as pages per minute, capacity, price and service options, then compares up to 10 of its products.


For example, selecting a duplex scanner that can handle 26 to 40 pages per minute yields two results. The DocuMate 262i handles 38 pages per minute, automatically crops and straightens, and can handle plastic ID cards. It costs $1,195. The DocuMate 632 handles 40 pages per minute and can create searchable PDFs. It costs $1,995.


Just as with software, many hardware vendors give “risk-free” trials of their product if prospective customers ask for it. Ask other accountants what they use and whether they like it. Practitioners don’t need scanners that are meant for digital photography. The numbers don’t need to look pretty, they just need to be readable.


Alexandra DeFelice is a JofA senior editor and AICPA CPA Insider e-newsletter columnist. To comment on this article or to suggest another article, e-mail her at or call 212-596-6122.


A version of this column originally appeared in the AICPA CPA Insider e-newsletter. The AICPA Insider Group’s e-newsletters deliver need-to-know news, hard-hitting commentary, recommended products and professional development resources to more than 200,000 CPAs and professionals each week, covering individual and corporate taxes, corporate finance, wealth management and careers. To sign up for the free e-newsletters and read archives, please visit


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This comprehensive report looks at the changes to the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and child and dependent care credit caused by the expiration of provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act; the ability e-file more returns in the Form 1040 series; automobile mileage deductions; the alternative minimum tax; gift tax exemptions; strategies for accelerating or postponing income and deductions; and retirement and estate planning.