One of the most common questions I get asked as an accountant relates to how to file taxes.
When it comes to filing your income tax return you have two choices:
- Hire a qualified tax accountant
- DIY taxes (if you have the stomach for it)
Well, there is a third option but it is a horrible choice.
You can hire any random person who claims to be able to prepare taxes:
- the neighbor kid who is an accounting major
- the friend of a friend who can do their own
- your coworker’s nephew
- or any self-proclaimed “expert”
There is no one method in the how to file taxes debate that is best for everyone.
Many people, especially a lot of “frugality bloggers”, tell you to do everything yourself.
Never pay anyone for something you can do yourself!
Spending money on anything that isn’t a need is stupid!
Others, like myself, believe that you should always pay a professional, particularly for important things like filing income tax returns.
That assumes you can afford it–I personally think it’s a bad idea to spend money you can’t afford to.
(If you can’t afford it, you may be able to DIY taxes and find a tax accountant to just review your work before you file)
Which method is best for you will depend on your individual circumstances and tax situation.
What I’m going to do is go over the benefits and drawbacks are to using a tax professional and doing your own taxes.
From there, you can take that information and make an educated decision–not just following what some “expert”–or worse, some random person in a Facebook group– tells you they do 😉
Let’s take a look at your options for how to file taxes, shall we?
DIY Taxes Can Be Cheaper
When most people consider how to file taxes, price is one of the biggest factors.
For those people who put a premium on price, DIY taxes can be the better option.
If you don’t have a complex return and/or make less than a certain income threshold, you may qualify to file your tax return for free.
Even if you don’t qualify for free filing, using an online tax program can still be pretty affordable.
On the other hand, many tax accountants have a minimum fee they charge regardless of how simple the return is.
It’s doubtful that any tax accountant will charge $17 like one of the more popular tax programs charges at the minimum, non-free level.
Don’t let price be the only determining factor of how to file taxes, because on the other hand…
DIY Taxes Can Be Hard
You may be able to do your simple returns.
What happens if your situation changes?
Say you get married.
Or sell your home.
Or move (ie: state income tax).
Or a number of other life changes that have an impact on your individual income taxes.
These types of events should always play a part in you deciding how to file taxes.
Having a tax accountant to prepare your taxes vs DIY taxes may give you a sense of security knowing that a qualified professional is on the job.
You may feel more confident with someone who understands the effect any of those events can have on your tax situation.
Of course, that expertise comes at a price.
After all, when it comes to a lot of services, you get what you pay for.
You also have to consider the fact that programs for online tax filing aren’t foolproof.
When you try to DIY taxes using an online program or app you can claim a deduction for childcare or medical insurance premiums even if they were taken out pre-tax and the program will allow it because it doesn’t know.
An experienced tax accountant, on the other hand, will know that anything taken out of your payroll check pre-tax cannot be claimed twice.
Why is that important?
When something comes out of your check pre-tax it is already being deducted from the withholding calculation.
If you claim it as a deduction on your taxes, you are double-dipping and whether intentional or out of ignorance, it’s bad.
Paying a tax accountant should alleviate concerns that the information being reported is incorrect and help make the decision of how to file taxes a bit easier.
DIY Taxes Are Done On Your Schedule
When you think about how to file taxes, this is sometimes a factor that goes overlooked.
Let’s face it, we’re all impatient to a certain extent.
We want things when we want them.
When you work with a tax accountant, you are at the mercy of their schedule.
The more popular they are, the more clients they have and the longer it may take before your income taxes get prepared.
When you choose to DIY taxes, you are in control.
As soon as the IRS finalizes the forms and the program you use is available, you can hop online and file your taxes.
Bing. Bang. BOOM!
No hounding the tax accountant to see where you are in their schedule or how much longer you will have to wait.
It’s especially beneficial if you are due a tax refund and don’t want to wait!
A Tax Professional Can Save You time
No one likes wasting time, do they?
Well, this factor can go a long way in helping you decide how to file taxes.
First, a quick question:
How many of you are organized, raise your hand 🙋
I am, but a large number of my current and past clients are/were far from it.
The more complex the financial and tax situation, the more documentation and/or paperwork will be involved.
If you aren’t organized and just keep all of your tax documents in a shoebox the more time it will take to go through it all.
And that’s if you even open up the envelopes at all!
Let’s also not forget that not every document is actually going to be needed in the preparation of your tax return.
I know from talking to people who choose to DIY taxes that they sometimes have to set aside as little as a few hours or as much as the majority of a weekend to deal with their income taxes.
Hiring a tax accountant to prepare the income taxes will get you back that time to do whatever you normally do.
Can it cost a little bit of money?
If you value your time more than money, however, it may be worth the investment.
When it comes to how to file taxes, there is no cut-and-dry answer.
Some people will be able to successfully DIY taxes.
Others may be inclined to simply outsource the task and pay a tax accountant to it for them.
Neither is the wrong approach.
So which way is the best way to file taxes?
The only right answer is this:
When considering how to file taxes, the best way is the way that makes sense for you!
When the topic of how to file taxes comes up what do you prefer: DIY taxes or paying a tax accountant? What was your decision-making process: did you weigh the pros or cons or did you just follow someone’s advice?