When I turned 16, my parents offered me use of their old 1987 Plymouth Horizon hatchback as “my car,” but only if I paid for the insurance, gas and repairs. Like any warm-blooded 16-year-old, I jumped at the opportunity and got a job at a big box retail store just a few miles from home. Little did I realize at my interview in September 2001 that my new paychecks not only gave me access to the open road, they also meant my first year paying taxes.
For a decade I followed my family’s example and used an accountant to prepare and file my taxes. Then in 2014, I took a leap of faith and switched to DIY taxes. I’m not going back — and here’s why.
The Family Accountant
My parents have been using the same accountant to do their taxes for years, one who primarily deals with small businesses, but also does personal taxes. When I grew up, my family owned a video rental store, so this accountant made a lot of sense as my family could get business and personal taxes done by the same tax expert.
I started using the same accounting firm in 2001. They cut me a deal: they’d charge me just $50 per year from age 16 up until I finished college. That made me a loyal customer.
However, there were some red flags I noticed as I entered adulthood that made me start to rethink the arrangement.
No More Deals
A few years after graduating college, my tax preparation bill had exploded from $50 to about $600. I justified this cost initially, thinking that an accountant is an expert and can save me more in taxes than I pay.
Charging by the Form
Between my full-time job, my investments and my blogging, DJing and flash mob side hustles, I had a growing stack of 1099s to file — and my accountant charged per form. Even though he had little to do with those forms, my bill kept going up.
Toward the end of my time with the accountant, I noticed some big errors that could have cost me a lot of money. For example, one year he listed my retirement account investment gains as taxable, which they were not. That alone would have cost me $600 had I not caught it.
Doing the Work
As my tax situation got more and more complicated, I was filling out a lengthy packet for my accountant to use as documentation, so I was essentially doing it all myself anyway. I realized that I could just enter that information into a website or computer program instead of writing it on paper and delivering it to the accountant.
Making the Change
In 2014, I thought to myself, “I have two finance degrees and spent time as a corporate accountant. Maybe doing my taxes myself will end up being easier than working with an accountant.” I decided to start using an online filing program.
So, I gathered my tax forms, like my W-2s and 1099s, and after reviewing the costs, features and reviews of the big names in DIY taxes, I decided to file with H&R Block.
It’s worth noting that it took hours to gather and fill everything in, partially due to my multiple businesses that each had their own Schedule C. When I finally finished though, H&R Block let me file my taxes and export my 46 page PDF, which included details for my federal and state filings. It all went smoothly. I never got audited or had any problems with my tax returns.
As an added bonus, I saved about $400 compared to my old accountant for tax preparation costs. It’s safe to say that I was sold on the idea of handling my own taxes.
Every year since then I have done DIY taxes and have been pleased overall with the results. Though, of course, the various options have different pros and cons — TurboTax didn’t have a way for me to do my S-Corp business taxes on a Macbook or online, TaxAct had some unclear directions and poor customer service, etc. But no matter which DIY tax option I’ve used, I’ve saved money.
Even if you have complicated taxes, you can absolutely do it yourself. A professional accountant brings some calculator skills and peace of mind to filing your taxes, but otherwise, it does not offer a major benefit for the average tax filer. Doing it yourself can save you a bundle of money, and might even save you a bit of time and protect you from errors compared to an accountant.
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