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Saturday, 3 September 2011

Receipts



What is a receipt? From Wikipedia: "A receipt is a written acknowledgement that a specified article or sum of money has been received as an exchange for goods or services. The receipt is evidence of purchase of the property or service obtained in the exchange."

In India, the Calcutta High Court has made printed receipts mandatory for taxi drivers. The taxis have to be fitted with meters that will print out the receipts. (Source: Times of India, 3rd Sept 2011. Court makes printed receipts mandatory for taxi cabs.) Hopefully in the long run this will work out to be similar to Hong Kong, where the government sets the rates and publishes taxi rates. Hong Kong's Transport Department says thus: "It is an offence if taxi drivers refuse, without reasonable excuse, to issue receipts to passengers upon request." (Source: Transport Department of Hong Kong. Taxi fare of Hong Kong)

Keeping receipts can help us to claim for tax deductions or tax reliefs. For example, in the South Jersey Local News yesterday an article appeared advising graduate students to keep their receipts. (Source: South Jersey Local News, 2nd Sept 2011. Tax Tip: Keep receipts, learn about tax benefits for college costs)

Receipts have traditionally been written on paper, but in recent times it has become commonplace for stores to issue printed receipts. A weakness of receipts printed on thermal paper is that the print disappears after some time. As a result receipts printed on thermal paper become quite useless after a period of time. For that reason it makes sense to scan or photocopy receipts issued on thermal paper as soon as practically possible. Staple the original to the photocopy and file both away. (Refer: Slashdot, 28th Aug 2003. Disappearing Ink on Thermal Paper?)

You may note that I have had extensive experience with fax machines using thermal paper and have made the switch to All-In-One laser printers that print on normal A4 for the very same reason.

Note: If the thermal paper receipts are merely faded, but not blank, it is still possible to scan the receipts into a computer and process the image with a very high contrast, preferably reducing the image to only 2 colours. From my experience, the very faded text will become black, and the white space will remain white.

An easier solution is to scan all receipts into the computer where they can be arranged according to chronological order. It also makes more sense because your friendly accountant can receive all the receipts in one big ZIP or RAR file. In fact one entrepreneur was featured in the National Retail Federation's newsletter "Stores" with her bright idea of issuing receipts digitally and sending them to the recipients online. (Stores, Sept 2011. Saving Receipts .... and Trees) All that will probably be fine until either (a) the hard disk fails, (b) the computer fails, (c) the Internet fails.

Another business using the same model that I found while browsing online is Shoeboxed, which promises to scan your receipts and store them safely for you. They charge between free to USD499 per year. (Ref: Shoeboxed, Pricing and plans)

The New York Times reported that the retailing industry receipts have joined the digital age. (Ref: NY Times, 7th Aug 2011. Digital Receipts Join Paperless Age) The NY Times gushes: "Major retailers, including Whole Foods Market, Nordstrom, Gap Inc. (which owns Old Navy and Banana Republic), Anthropologie, Patagonia, Sears and Kmart, have begun offering electronic versions of receipts, either e-mailed or uploaded to password-protected Web sites. And more and more customers, the retailers report, are opting for paperless..... paperless receipts have become a rite of passage for retailers trying to integrate the digital experience into their brick and mortar stores." Further, it is mooted as a positive development, and here in the NY Times in salesman mode: "...the e-receipts present marketing opportunities for retailers. Gap, Nordstrom and many other stores, for example, add the customer’s e-mail address to a mailing list for follow-up offers."

On the other hand, Michigan Live reported that consumers have been slow to embrace the change to digital receipts. (Source: Michigan Live, 31st Aug 2011. Electronic receipt use on the rise but shoppers are slow to bite.)

Receipts are important. Recently one of India's many state governments asked one of its chief officials, a certain Dr Mukul Kishore Kapoor, to reproduce official receipts for expenses incurred on trade delegations.... 16 years ago. (Ref: Gulf News, 30th August 2011. Lalu aide asked to produce receipts 16 years on.)

By my reckoning, most normal human beings do not store receipts for more than 10 years, except for very important matters. Some people even misplace their receipts after half a year, or even worse, three months. Now, what should people do if they have lost the official receipts to some very important purchases? There is no clear solution for it, but obviously, if credit cards have been swiped, there will be some electronic proof of purchase. 

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