Should You Do Your Own Taxes?
It’s almost tax season. And with it comes the onslaught of forms, documents, papers, emails, and folders, all containing some amount of financial information we’re told we must submit to the IRS.
Soon, you’ll have to make a decision: Will you file your own taxes or hire someone to do it for you?
If you’ve never filed your own taxes, I suggest you consider it. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it could save you some money.
You can file your taxes on paper, but the IRS’s website warns that it may take several weeks longer to process paper returns. They highly recommend everyone files electronically.
I’ve filed my own taxes eighteen out of the past nineteen years. I started with TurboTax software, then switched to H&R Block. Filing my own taxes has been almost entirely trouble-free.
To get started, first download the tax software of your choice. The purchase price will vary, based on your needs.
Basically, the more complicated your financial situation, the more expensive your software will be. For example, Intuit’s TurboTax has four different versions of tax software. Its cheapest version is actually free. You would use the free version if you are filing a simple tax return only.
It doesn’t cover much more than your W-2 form, unemployment income, Earned Income Tax Credits, and child tax credits. If that’s all you need though, then according to Intuit’s website, you will pay “absolutely nothing to file your federal and state taxes”. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that!
If you own a home or have investments, generate income from real estate or another business, have a lot of tax deductions, or are self-employed, the free version won’t cut it. You’ll need to buy one of Intuit’s other three programs. The Deluxe sells for $40, the Premier is $70, and the Self-Employed is $90. You will have to pay an additional fee to file your state taxes.
H&R Block’s program is also organized by tiers, although it doesn’t appear to offer a free version. According to hrblock.com, their basic plan is $19.95, the Deluxe + State is $44.95, the Premier is $64.95, and the Premium & Business is $79.95. They also have a Deluxe version that does not include a state return for $39.95.
H&R Block is a little cheaper, especially when you consider that their three most expensive versions include one return for one state. If you need to file for additional states, those returns cost $39.95 each.
After you’ve downloaded the software, start the program and make sure you have your pile of documents next to you. You’ll be asked pretty simple questions, like “Did you buy a home in 2020?”, or “Did you donate cash to any charities in 2020?”
It will probably also ask you if you if you got married, had a baby, switched jobs, moved, or invested in an IRA or similar account, in addition to a bunch of other similar questions. You just answer the questions and fill in the numbers. It really is that easy.
Depending on how complicated your return is, it will probably take you between one and three hours to complete.
CreditKarma.com quotes the National Society of Accountants’ 2018-2019 Income and Fees Survey as stating the average fee for having a tax professional file a federal and state return is $188. If the filer itemizes deductions, the average fee increases to $294.
Paying $70 for TurboTax and spending three hours of your time to do your own taxes could save you as much as $224.
So should you file your own taxes? It really comes down to your comfort level. Does the very thought of filling out these forms online stress you out? Will your sleep suffer because you’ll be paranoid that you’ll be audited? If so, maybe you should just continue hiring a tax professional. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But if filing your own taxes doesn’t scare you, maybe you should give it a try. You’ll save some money and might even enjoy the process.