Should I Do My Own Taxes Or Hire An Accountant?

10-key calculator, image credit: OfficeDepot.comI mentioned earlier that I am forgoing all the free federal and state tax filing software options and paying an accountant this year. A reader asked why. That’s a good question, here’s what I (as a non-tax pro) think the decision process should look like:

Do I even want to deal with it?
Some people just think about taxes and feel queasy. It’ll cost at least $100 to pay a person to do it for you, but it’ll get done. Or maybe you feel your time is worth enough that it’s cheaper to just outsource it.

Try doing it online yourself for free first
Most online tax websites only make you pay for your return at the very end, when you want to print or e-file. So you can go through the entire process and even figure out your refund without paying a dime. I used to run my taxes both with TaxCut and TurboTax online just to make sure the final numbers were identical (they weren’t once!). Usually they ask enough questions to tease out any concerns you might have. If you find yourself unsure of something, maybe it’s time to do some more reading or pay for an accountant.

The side benefit to doing this is that it makes you get all your records and papers in order. This will save your accountant time, and thus save you some money!

Taxes Too Complicated?
If your taxes are easy (you don’t itemize), I bet that any software will ask the same questions as the people at your local H&R Block. But in my case, I formed an corporation for my business this year, and with the payroll issues, qualified expenses, and deductions there is no free online version I could try for free. I could buy a copy of the beefier TaxCut Business that handles corporations, but it’s very possible that I’d still miss something.

Therefore, I want my records to be examined at least once by a professional who’s familiar with similar small businesses – an independent accountant, not a chain. If I’m lucky, I will find someone that adds value and maybe even form a long-term relationship. If not, at the very least I’ll have the finished return to act as a template for next year’s taxes.

Comments

  1. If you have your own business certainly use a professional accountant. Don’t do the taxes yourself here’s why:

    - A good accountant will help you put your deductions in the right place. Your chances for an audit will be a LOT lower

    - If you do get audited then what? If you have a professional prepare them at least you have someone to help you through the scary audit process.

    - A good accountant will lower your tax bill enough to cover their fees, so they end up costing you next to nothing.

    Just my thoughts.

    “Go with the Pros”

  2. so what are you saying.
    do them yourself or someone else?

    reason i ask is i made more money this year than any other year.
    i’m single with no dependants and no self run business

    so taxes should be easy right? well yeah they were but i was not happy with my return. i paid out A LOT of tax year and am getting very little back. wtf?

    plus why is my tax rate 25% as opposed to last years 15%.

    ok so what should i do…
    do them myself or get someone to do them for me and risk having them take the little return i might get back?

  3. I think that once you start talking about a business, you really do want a professional doing it or taking you through it at least once.

  4. I’d strongly recommend against H&R Block. I’ve had brilliant luck with them in Chicago, but my L.A. H&R Block experience was a complete disaster.

    I’ve been getting a nice letter from the IRS to please pay the additional amount of about 3 months worth of income – because H&R forgot to ask me some questions regarding stock options. Thankfully, the taxes were properly taken care of by my company – it was just a mistake on the forms.

    It confirms what I’ve heard from others – H&R has extremely unevenly trained preparers.

    I’d suggest that if you’re paying money to get your taxes done, I’d go with a CPA. Preferrably one who’s recommended to you buy a friend. Tax mistakes can turn rather costly.

  5. Hi,

    You can deduct the expense of the accountant on next year’s taxes. I find having an accountant to be very helpful and I’m sure they have saved us more than they cost.

    -Christina

  6. Generally if you trade a lot of stock, own a business or rental property, you should seek an accountant.

    Most people can do their taxes themselves w/ software. Even if you try it yourself, you’ll have a far better understanding of what you’re reporting than you would otherwise. You are ultimately responsible for what you sign.

    A good accountant will add value in December, not April, with proper tax planning.

  7. $100 for someone to do ur taxes? Thats cheap!!

    My wife and I had a straight forward tax and still H&R Block charges us $150.

    I think if u have a business etc, it will cost over $300 for someone to do ur taxes

  8. This is my first year for paying to have it done as well. I have been doing my own taxes for years, but a lot of things have changed this year. We bought a house, had a significant move (which means moving expenses), 3 job changes between my wife and I in the calendar year, side income, investment income, and losses from a passive partnership holding I have in an LLC.

    And one of the most important factors is that for the first time it looks like, at least based on preliminary calculations, we will owe taxes. This is not a position I want to be in, so I’d rather have a professional try to squeeze as many deductions as possible to reduce the tax burden.

  9. I don’t think “do I want to deal with it” is that much of a question. Even if someone else does your taxes, you will have to spend the time to organize all your records and receipts, which probably takes longer than filling in the form itself anyway. My main reason for going to an accountant is that I value her expertise and judgment about my itemized deductions, and for the next couple of years, because I’ll have some complicated stuff relating to my condo purchase (property tax abatements, etc) so I want to make sure everything is done right.
    Doing my taxes myself would save me money, but knowing they’re done right is probably worth it. It wouldn’t save me time, unless you count the time it would take me to absorb all the knowledge that makes my accountant an expert.
    What I think it probably a waste of time and money is to have your tax forms done at someplace like H&R Block, where the average preparer is not an accountant.

  10. Amillionby40 says:

    I agree that my time is more valuable then doing my own taxes. The more complicated my taxes get the better I feel about having someone else do them plus it’s a good idea to have someone else take a peek at least once a year at your finances.

  11. My hubby’s company is paying for us to use a CPA this year (they paid for our relo and the CPA will make sure the taxes were grossed up enough). But I’m finding out that even so, I’m still doing the bulk of the “work” associated with taxes: i.e. collecting documents, filling out a questionnaire for them with the info on capital gains/losses, matching transactions…etc. Bleh!

    If it weren’t for the fact that we wanted to make sure the taxes were grossed up correctly, I’d just do the taxes myself using TaxCut as I always do. Of course, our taxes might be less complicated than other peoples’…

  12. I saw that statefarm has free taxes for its customers. However, I am not sure, if basic & deluxe (Free) can handle the stock trades I did last year. They are charging $20 for Premier which says “Investments”. Jonathan do you know if the basic or delux will work? i just made a few trades last year thorugh scottrade and I sold everything in the same year.

    Thanks.

  13. I damn near faint when I hear how much people pay to get someone to do their taxes.
    This guy on my jobs pays $60 to have this lady do his taxes. She enters every thing a computer and uses the same tax software thats available to every one else. (Then he proceeds to tell me she drives around in a brand new Escalade. I guess so!)
    My sister pays this lady a 100+ to do her taxes. I was like are you crazy? She was like this lady gets me a good amount back. I just walked away.

    I use Turboxtax online.
    It’s free if you use this http://www.taxfreedom.com/ link and make 28,000 AGI or less

  14. the222 – I think my main point was there is no one answer for everybody.

    I forgot that tax preparation is also a qualified IRS business expense (if you have a business) and therefore I not feeling the full “hit” of paying an accountant.

  15. A friend of mine works for HR Block. That friend told me that they use the same software you would use if you file using any tax prep company’s web interface or software.

    So give filing for yourself a try. Taxact.com is free for all customers this year. But I don’t think that applies to businesses.

  16. Steve Austin says:

    If one is one’s own accountant / tax preparer, may one deduct (the following year) the cost of one’s own labor when preparing tax forms?

    I.e. can we (The People) penalize ourselves (reduce the income of Our Treasury) for allowing our elected representatives to pen a tax code that is a drain on national productivity? Didn’t mean this comment to be political, but it just kind of turned out that way. ;-\

  17. Good decision to hire a CPA. Your subsequent post on quarterly planning prompts a suggestion. Because both spouses will be job-hunting & looking at houses & apartments you won’t want to have to deal with the distraction of tax filing. I suggest applying for the automatic six-month deferment. Come October, hopefully you will have good new jobs & a fine new home — & more time to spend with your CPA, who, BTW, is likely to cost you considerably more than you expect if he/she is fully qualified and willing to represent you at the IRS office if necessary (hopefully not) to explain or justify your numbers. In the meantime the accountant will have to figure out roughly how much you should send to the IRS along with your extension request and what your quarterly estimates (payable prior to your new Oct. 15 filing deadline) need to be. But I guess you are already familiar with estimates as an S corporation.

  18. The trick w/ H&R Block is….

    When you go there you aren’t really given a choice to select a preparer.

    You should specifically ask for an Enrolled Agent. This is not a CPA, but a person who has passed IRS exams to ‘stand before the service’ in tax disputes.

    There is a HUGE difference b/twn college students and EAs. EAs will be more than sufficient for most people.

  19. I always do my own tax – sometimes I made some mistakes but IRS always managed to catch them. They were mostly minor human errors.

    This year, we got a payout after our small company got bought by a big corporation. I better seek some professional help before I attempt this myself.

    Jt

  20. Pay another business owner, preferably a CPA, to do your taxes. Would you do your own cavities to save money on a Dentist? Of course not, you’d hire a professional because that is their task, to do taxes correctly and suggest ways for you to keep more money next year. The expense is tax deductible and you can take that time and reinvest it back into your business to make more money!

  21. This is another reason people should use MS Money or Quicken, at the end of the year you can prepare a tax report that tells you all the relevant numbers for stock sold, etc…

    Before the existance of Turbo Tax and Tax Cut I could empathize with the “i don’t want the hassle” argument, but unless you are dealing with really complicated issues its hard to justify paying someone to do it for you.

    I think people get a little overly paranoid about accuracy. Unless you make a lot of money and are purposely trying to steal from the government, it’s not likely that you are going to be audited and if you are its not likely that you will owe very much especially if its an honest mistake.

  22. The $100 number is just the start, I’m sure my tax return (S-Corp + 2 individuals) will cost more likely in the $500 range. But as a business expense, my net out-of-pocket expense is only about half of that.

    The dentist argument is iffy, do I hire a pro to clean my house, cook all my meals, manage my finances? It’s all about what you feel like you can do yourself competently. I don’t feel I can do my biz return competently, but I otherwise I would do my personal return via software since I have no special needs.

  23. RetireRichBlog.com says:

    Last year I went to H & R Block. Nothing special. Better to do it myself with software and save a bundle.

  24. Has anyone addressed the safety of your personal information if you do it ONLINE at the tax preparers website ? Who would be held responsible if a hacker broke into the HR Block Site & got a hold of your info ?

    A friend has suggested it maybe safer to simply file picking up the software & installing it on your machine rather than trusting HR Block to safeguard your information on their servers.

    A cheap way of verifying that your return (that you prepared with HR Block software) is to go to a store and have a preparer do it for you. If the return amount is the same or close enough, WALK AWAY as you are under no obligation to file at that moment.

    It may seem rude but its even ruder for HR BLock to charge an ARM & LEG for a simple return, $150 in my case.

  25. Kiplinger.com, the Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine’s Web site, runs a longish piece today on hiring a tax pro that might interest. I’ve found Kiplinger one of the more sensible sites & profited personally from its (usually) sound advice.

  26. I find it interesting that a number of postings claim that Tax Preparation fees on personal tax returns are tax deductible, and that they use this “fact” to support their decision to hire someone to do their taxes. Who told them this? Their self-serving hired tax professional? There is a place for tax preparation fees under Miscellaneous Expenses on Schedule A, but only the excess above 2% of your adjusted gross is deductible. So for most personal returns, the Tax Preparation Fee does NOT reduce their taxes. And even if that $100 tax preparation fee were deductible, at the 25% tax bracket, it would only save them $25.

    A friend of mine would diligently gather all her tax receipts together, including her medical expenses (because medical expenses are deductible), drive them down 35 miles to her accountant and drop them off along with a $150 check. Two weeks later, she would drive down and pick up her return. Her accountant never mentioned that she would have to be very sick in order to have enough expenses to be deductible (excess over 7.5% adjusted gross), and that because she was renting and thus didn’t have any mortgage interest, her best move was to take the standard deduction and not itemize.

    What is my point? By outsourcing your tax return, you are kept in the dark about a very important document of your financial life. Spend some time doing it yourself to gain an appreciation of how well you are doing and how to save on your taxes in the future. If you had a “Magician” do it last year, compare your current return with his as a way to double check yourself. You will see that there is no magic involved.

  27. We have always done our own taxes for the past 35 years and are not accountants. E-file? We don’t qualify for the free package and any money we spend on tax software just reduces gains in investments. So why spend money for something you can do yourself. We file the old fashioned way but it sure takes some time to put together schedule B and D. This year, due to the way basis is calculated on DRIP mutual funds, our schedule D had 125 lines on it. I tried to use the single and double averaging method and that actually lost money to the government so beware filers. I was audited about 10 years ago, the upshot was the manager of the IRS location wanted to fire my inspector and hire me because I knew more about the code than the inspector. The same thing happened to my mother about 25 years ago.

  28. I would do your own! i hired a CPA from Kohart and Company and just got a notice in the mail from the IRS. My CPA forgot or didn’t ad the IRA that i sold into my wages in 2005 so i owe over $1000 + penalties! I haven’t spoke with them yet but i bet they’re going to say “well we didn’t have that form” or something like that and i KNOW i gave them that form. do your own.. its easy with a tax form. CPA’s are a waste. Just do your research, read about tax credits, etc.

  29. I am beginning to wonder why I used a CPA for my corporate taxes. I have heard from my relatives who’ve owned multiple taxes of using this particular CPA, who I employed this year to do my returns because of his good work ethics and precision in getting me maximum deductions. I was told by the CPA that I should input everything into quickbooks, so I went out to get the Quickbooks program that cost me $200.00.

    I go back to the CPA firm, install the program, and about 1 hours’ time, the CPA’s assistant showed me how to input MY information that I’ve already laid out into a spreadsheet for him to put into Quickbooks so he can download it and prepare the tax that way (which will help save him LOTS of time). So all in all, I meet with him about an hour to discuss my corporate situation, where I did my taxes previously, mingle and talk, and gave him all the expenses and income from my real estate holding LLC with only 7 properties in it (not even a major corporation yet) and he tells me to get Quickbooks and his assistant will briefly teach me how to put the ledger in the right column, and that’s it.

    Guess what, I get the bill today, and it’s freakin’ $1900!!!! $1100 for the tax preparation work, and $800 for showing me HOW to input the data that I’ve already given them in a nice spreadsheet with total amounts into Quickbooks and me having to spend 5 hours inputing the data myself? How the heck could this be right?

    I can see that this CPA does a good job and is very precise, but come on? $1900 for this??? Is that even legal? I can already tell flat out that my real estate holding firm is at a loss, as I purposely do it so I don’t have to report income and let the properties grow on tax-deferred basis, but this should just be a simple filing. How could it be $1900? Does anyone else agree with me on this? What should I do at this point?

  30. Has anyone been audited and got their penalties and interest reduced

  31. Does anyone think paying $710 for an accountant to do one 1099 for about 12,000, one miscellaneous expense for 795 and my husband’s w2?
    I almost passed out.

  32. Often times when people pay someone that paid preparer finds more deductions and credits for them and and it ends up making up the amount they paid the accountant anyway.

    Julie,
    I would do your taxes for you in about 2 hours for less than $100. That accountant is trying to rip you off.

  33. Cola Tax & Solutions says:

    Anyone can do their own taxes. All it takes is time for reading/researching and simply following directions. However, $100-150 isn’t too bad. Accountants aren’t as blood thirsty as plumbers. Those guys will charge you $700 to install a new water heater (not including the cost for the new heater), and if it’s on the second floor you’re looking at even more!

    Anyway, you can find places that will do your taxes for $50-100, just as good, if not better, as H&R Block.

  34. TaxCut and TurboTax are great programs, and given the scale and simplicity of a given filing, an individual can effectively do his/her own taxes with these tools. I would always suggest professional intervention for planning and value-added advice (both for personal and business returns). A trusted advisor is hard to come by, and at the end of the day should pay for itself in the myriad of tax savings/efficiencies that can be uncovered. Happy Holidays! Jason Gilbert, CPA

  35. I paid in $2,751.67 this year becasue I claim 0 and last year I paid in about $1500. I got back $960 last year and this year I’m only getting back $1300….can anyone tell me why in the **** I’m getting back so little? And if I should just start claiming a 1 instead of a zero so I dont’ get screwed outta money again.
    Thanks

  36. a_cranson says:

    My future wife got charged 260.00$ to get her taxes done is this right?
    she went to a well known company she sat done with them answered all there questions and still got charged that much how is that possible she didn’t make alot of money last year and claimed our son. i just don’t get how a company can charge that much and sleep at night it boogles my mind.

  37. I am a CPA. I have over 25 years of experience and that is what I sell. For one W-2 and a few 1099s you should not go to a CPA and if you have the time you should do it yourself. But if you have stock options or a business or other complex issues you need a trained professional. A CPA is a highly educated trained and licensed individual who is held to a very high level of ethics. In San Francisco the average returns for W-2s itemized deductions and maybe a business starts at $750 and quickly goes up. An example is the volumes of new laws this year. Lets look at one of them. There is a credit for providing health insurance for your employees. It use to be that a credit could have one worksheet outside of the form to calculate the credit. This credit has 7 to 8 additional worksheets outside of the form itself. The credit is great but almost impossible to figure. I pay of $3,000 for my basic software to research tax questions. I pay over $4,000 for my tax software to prepare the returns. I have to attend 80 hours of classes every two years to keep my CPA. And finally I pay $2,500 a year for insurance. You go to a CPA not for just a return. But for the planning for the advice for the all the work that goes into the relationship before the return is ever prepared. In fact in my firm the tax return is a bi-product of all the planning I do for each client in December so in April there are surprises.

  38. I am a single gal w/ 1 daughter. I am also a student. I pay my parents accountant $70 which has increased over the years. I get a lot back & know nothing about filing taxes, so to me its worth paying someone who’s an expert because I don’t know all the rules & deductions I can have.

  39. Fisherman says:

    Hey, So I actually just have a tax question for people.

    I am a commercial fisherman, I have been leasing a boat and permit for 2 years now. I have been hiring a accountant for 7 years now. This year he said he did not have time to do my taxes. he said I need to file a extension, In his defense it took me a long time to get them prepared.

    Here is what I need to know.

    1.How do I find another accountant familiar with Commercial fishing.

    2.I have only been making around $34,000.00 after expenses and everything else it really isnt that much money. the question is that due to needing to save money where I can is the $450.00 he charged me last year a fair price?

    3.I filed 10-99′s for some of my employees but I didnt get all of them done on January 31rst am I going to be in Trouble? (might be a question for the hopeful future accountant)

    4. I just want to reiterate I NEED TO FIND A ACCOUNTANT IN THE SEATTLE AREA THAT IS FAMILIAR WITH COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN TAX PREPERATION!

    Thanks if anyone knows anything!

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