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Searchable scanners may be your best friend this tax season

No more stacks of paper! Get everything organized and neatly stored on your computer.

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This $500, 600-dpi color scanner is designed to scan documents, photos, receipts and business cards, and instantly turn them into searchable files stored in Evernote. 

Josh Miller/CNET

If you're the type of person who throws all of your receipts into a shoebox and then deeply regrets it when tax season comes around (like me!), you may want to get a searchable scanner.

Searchable scanners are, well, scanners, but they have some special talents. They can scan a whole stack of receipts and other papers automatically. After they scan a document, these home office tools turn the information into a searchable PDF file and puts it in a computer folder so that it's easy to find later when you're doing your taxes.

Features to look for

There are many different brands of searchable scanners on the market, but there are a few features that you should look for:

  • Wireless is best. This lets you put the scanner anywhere in your home office without a trail of unsightly cords.
  • Pick a sheet-fed scanner that has an automatic document feeder (ADF) because no one wants to scan each document by hand. Many searchable scanners -- such as the Xerox DocuMate 3220 Sheetfed Scanner -- can automatically feed and scan up to 50 documents.
  • Check the duty cycle rating. This is the number of scans a device can make in one day. Some scanners have a duty cycle of around 1,000 scans, while others can hit 2,500 scans.
  • Make sure it supports multiple document sizes. Receipts come in all sizes, so it's important to find a scanner that not only feeds A4, A5, A6, B5, B6, letter and legal-sized papers, it should also have feed options for business cards and custom sizes.
  • Check for phone capabilities. Some scanners -- like the ScanSnap iX500 Color Duplex Scanner -- can send scans wirelessly to your phone.
  • Be sure that the scanner has duplex scanning, which means that it can capture both sides of a document at the same time. This feature will save you a lot of time.

What to do if you have a regular scanner

If you already have a regular scanner and don't want to buy yet another gadget, here's some good news. You can make your regular PDF documents searchable by changing the settings on your scanner so that it saves documents in PDF form. 

Then, download the subscription version of Adobe Acrobat Reader DC ($15, £15 or AU$22 a month) and use the Enhance Option in the Tools menu. If you have an older version of Acrobat, you can use these instructions for creating searchable PDFs.

Update, March 5: This article was originally published on Jan. 19, 2016 and has been updated.

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