Whether you’re excited your last tax statements arrived or you’re dreading pulling all of your tax paperwork together, it’s time to consider preparing your taxes.
If you’ve organized all your tax documents and are anticipating a refund, filing early makes sense. But those who think they’ll owe the IRS (and/or state taxes), probably shouldn’t delay preparing them either.
For the millions of people who had too little money withheld from paychecks in 2018, early tax preparation gives you time to make plans to pay the taxes you might owe.
No matter when you decide to begin, you still may have one important question – Is it worth the money to have my taxes done by a professional?
Preparing Your Own Taxes
According to a CBS report, close to 50% of all people who file do their own taxes. With free electronic filing for some, and tax preparation software available at reasonable prices, many who formerly paid a professional tax preparer now choose to do their own returns.
What Does It Cost To Do Your Own Taxes?
If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $66,000, you can file a federal return for free using a number of different tax software companies. Some also offer free state income tax filing.
As you research different companies on the IRS website, make sure you choose one meeting your filing needs. You can also try the Free File Software Lookup Tool for suggestions.
If your AGI is more than $66,000, you can still use free fillable forms available on the IRS website (although state tax preparation forms are not available.) There are also many low-cost tax software options including H&R Block, Intuit’s TurboTax, Liberty Tax, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer.
Understanding your tax preparation needs and the complexity of your tax situation before you choose software will help you make a better decision on which product to use.
Benefits of Do-It-Yourself Tax Preparation
There is a great deal of information available online to help you prepare your own return. If you can file for free or pay for low-cost tax software rather than paying for tax preparation services, you may save a lot of money.
If you’ve never done your own taxes or if this is the first year you will be filing, you may not realize how much you can learn by preparing your own return.
Working through an online (or paper) return, forces you to look at your income and some of your key expenses. You’ll learn more about tax credits, deductions, and your effective tax rate.
Drawbacks To DIY’ing Your Tax Return
If you have a simple return, it makes sense to do your own taxes. Just make sure you read the directions carefully, avoid these frequent mistakes, and choose a software program meeting your needs (including free state tax returns if that applies.)
If your return is complicated, and this is the first time you are doing them, you could make errors or miss deductions or credits applying to you.
Questions you have as you’re working on your taxes may be difficult to get answers to from customer support. Your tax planning software probably won’t give you the planning advice a tax preparer could help you with either, such as is your hobby really a business.
Another thing to consider is your time and the value you put on it.
In 2014, an IRS Publication 1040 reported an average time burden of 13 hours to do the record-keeping, planning, filing, and submission of tax forms.
Those who filed a 1040EZ averaged 5 hours, but filing form 1040 took the average taxpayer 16 hours. Reported time can vary significantly for individual taxpayers. But it’s still important to consider your tax time burden when you consider paying someone to do the preparation for you.
Paying a Tax Professional
Many people who pay a professional tax preparer are more than happy to hand over their documents and skip the work involved in completing a return. It can be difficult for individuals to keep up with tax law changes and their impact on complicated tax situations.
Most tax preparers take continuing education coursework to stay current on the latest tax laws. Be sure you understand the credentials of any tax professional you consider hiring to do your return.
The level of education and expertise of people who prepare tax returns can vary greatly. Do you want the representation rights of an Enrolled Agent or a CPA? Check out this IRS page to learn more.
What Does It Cost For a Professional To Do Your Taxes?
Costs varied depending on whether returns included Schedule A (itemizing deductions) or not. The simplest of federal returns cost $100 and up.
It makes sense the more complicated a return gets, the more expensive it will get. Adding more forms or schedules can increase the cost of tax preparation by hundreds of dollars. The more complex and costly returns are probably the most important to have done by a professional.
Fees for tax preparation vary greatly. Some tax preparers charge a flat fee and others charge by the form. Depending on your tax situation, your tax professional may charge an hourly rate to prepare your return.
Keep in mind just like many other expenses, if you live in a high cost of living area – you’ll probably pay more to have your taxes done too.
You may be able to reduce your costs by having all of your documents organized and your questions prepared. If your tax professional has to chase you for missing documents, incomplete information, or contact you for questions on incomplete paperwork, you may end up paying more.
It’s helpful to get an estimate from your tax professional before you agree to their services. Give as much information as you can and show the preparer your past return to get the best estimate possible.
Pros and Cons of Hiring Out Tax Preparation
Many of the pros and cons of paying someone to do your taxes are the opposite of the benefits and drawbacks to doing them yourself.
Even if you understand the basics of tax preparation hiring out the job makes sense if you don’t have the time or interest in completing your return.
For complicated tax situations, using an expert can save you both time and money – and it might reduce your risk of an audit.
You’ll still want to review your taxes and work closely with your tax professional to determine any changes you need to optimize your tax situation in current and future years.
Prepare Your Taxes First, Then Pay Someone To Do Them
One option you could consider is preparing your own return and then hiring a professional tax preparer to also do your return. (Or merely have them review your self-prepared return.)
You’ll get all of the benefits of preparing them yourself (even though the tax software may cost you some money) and you can then compare it to the return completed by the tax professional.
You may find your DIY return matches the one you pay to have done. If it doesn’t, you can talk with your tax preparer about discrepancies and see if hiring someone to do your taxes is worth the money.
Don’t forget to talk with your tax preparer about any planning you can do to help reduce your tax liability in the future too.
Should I Pay for Professional Tax Preparer?
You may still have time to make decisions about doing your own taxes or paying a professional tax preparer to do them – or doing both. But putting your taxes off once you have all of your documents organized usually doesn’t make sense.
Tax time is stressful for some people and waiting to do them can cause even more anxiety.
For most Americans, federal tax returns are due on April 15th – better known as Tax Day.
But, remember filing early will help you get your refund faster and cut down on identity fraud. And if you find out you owe money after your taxes are completed, you can wait until Tax Day to file and pay the taxes due.
Knowing what you owe will allow you to take control of your finances, develop a plan to pay your taxes, and hopefully avoid taking on debt to pay the tax bill.