Should I do my own taxes or hire a pro? Here's how to decide
- Wondering whether you should do your own taxes? First of all, ask yourself if you have the time and patience to prepare and file a return.
- If the answer is no, then it's probably worth the cost of hiring a tax professional.
- Most people can save money filing their own taxes with online software, but you need to have a basic understanding of taxes - and trust that a virtual preparer will cover all your bases.
- See Business Insider's picks for the best tax software »
It's once again time to ask yourself: Should I do my own taxes or hire a pro?
Since most people's financial situations change every year, it's a question worth asking annually.
The flowchart below can help you make a quick decision, but keep reading for more detailed guidelines.
Should I do my own taxes?
Americans have two basic options when it comes to filing their taxes:
1. Do it yourself with tax software or through the IRS website. The IRS does not charge to file taxes. If you're well-versed in tax law (most people aren't) you can print out and mail in your paperwork or request the paper forms in the mail. However, the IRS encourages online filing and directs taxpayers with incomes under $69,000 to its free filing portal, which lists 10 qualified tax preparers that offer free federal filing services (though there's typically an additional charge for state filing).
For people with incomes north of $69,000, you can still find free filing options if you have straightforward income. A more complex situation - like self-employment or complicated investments - means you'll likely have to pay for online tax software, which can range from $25 to $100 or more for federal and state filing.
2. Hire a tax preparer to file for you. The only professionals qualified to help you are tax lawyers, CPAs, and enrolled IRS agents. You can search for appropriately credentialed preparers at taxprepareregistry.com.
Preparers generally start at around $100 and vary depending on where you live and how complex your taxes are, and accountants might very well charge at least twice that, with similar variations in price according to location and complexity. According to a survey from the National Association of Tax Professionals, the average charge for preparing and filing a tax return is $216.
So, should you prepare taxes yourself or hire someone to help? For most people, it's not just about the price. Ultimately, it comes down to what you're most comfortable with.
Do your own taxes if:
You have the time and patience to deal with it. Taxes probably aren't the kind of thing you should do with Netflix on in the background. Expect to set aside some time to give it your undivided attention - the IRS estimates the average person spends up to seven hours gathering forms and preparing their tax return. If you're a business-owner, expect to spend about 20 hours on your taxes.
You have a straightforward tax situation with no dependents, no investments other than retirement accounts, and no significant assets or charitable contributions. Those basic, free versions of tax preparation software mentioned above were created for people like you, who have few deductions or other financial factors to take into consideration.
You own a business or are self-employed and feel comfortable navigating business-related tax forms. Business income adds another layer to preparing and filing a tax return. If you have experience with business-related tax forms or you want to save some money on an accountant, you're sure to find tax software that meets your specific needs.
You feel comfortable hitting submit and want that control over your money. Taxes are a big deal. If you feel comfortable navigating the software, looking up questions on the IRS website, and the idea of having to fix any errors doesn't terrify you, then you'll probably feel more comfortable doing your own taxes.
Hire a professional if:
You don't have the time and patience to deal with it. If you feel that the significant time you'd need to devote to doing your taxes would be better spent elsewhere, you might want to outsource. It's probably more prudent than rushing through your filing and making a mistake.
You have a complicated tax situation with dependents, investments, or significant assets or charitable contributions, or you own a business. Nearly every financial transaction comes with some kind of tax consequence, and the more transactions you have, the more things you need to take into consideration. People who own businesses, freelance, or are self-employed in particular might want the help of a professional to iron out their atypical tax situations - deductions for home offices, business meals and travel, and vehicles are also audit red flags.
You're planning to itemize your deductions. Since President Donald Trump's 2017 tax law increased the standard deduction, fewer filers are itemizing deductions. But if you have major medical costs, a mortgage, or make large charitable donations (among other factors) you might save more money itemizing your deductions than taking the standard deduction. But itemizing can be tricky to navigate on your own, especially if it's your first time.
You've had a major life change in the last year. Did you get married? Buy a house? Have a baby? These all impact your tax filing, and, at least the first time you document them on your taxes, you might want someone to show you how best to do it.
You don't trust yourself to cover all of your bases. If the idea of entering numbers and talking about dependents and deductions makes you break out in a cold sweat, you might want to leave the preparation to a professional.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.
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