3 Important Things I Learned By Doing My Own Taxes

I think we can all agree.

When you do something new yourself (vs outsourcing it), you typically learn something new – both about the process of what you’re doing, AND about yourself.

Filing taxes is no exception. I recently filed my own taxes using TurboTax. Here’s the why and what I learned from the experience.

Why I Did My Own Taxes

When I was in college and a couple years there after my Father, a CPA, did my taxes for me.

Gotta love free tax prep service.  🙂

Thanks, Dad.

Since 2002 (when I received MY license) I’ve been doing my own.

Although I’m not in the tax prep business, I feel obligated to do my own. What kind of CPA doesn’t do his own taxes, right?

I’m by no means a tax guru, but had little trouble with the very basic 1040EZs and 1040As that were required of me the past few years. Then, I got married in 2006. Since that time my taxes have become a bit more complex. This year was by far the most difficult. So much so that I think next year I’ll hand them back over to Dad. Here are some of the things I learned that may help you as well.

How to Properly Fill Out a W-4 When You Get Married

Many people are getting married this Spring. When they return from the honeymoon, one of the first things they’ll do is call up human resources at work and change their marital status. They should also change their Federal tax withholding on Form W-4.

Unfortunately for us, we didn’t properly make this change. We ended up owing $3,500 in taxes this year partly because of this. Ouch. Here’s the correct way to change your W-4 when you get married AND both spouses work. It’s easy, if you know where to look. This from the top right corner of the Form W-4:

Two earners or multiple jobs. If you have a working spouse or more than one job, figure the total number of allowances you are entitled to claim on all jobs using worksheets from only one Form W-4. Your withholding usually will be most accurate when all allowances are claimed on the Form W-4 for the highest paying job and zero allowances are claimed on the others.”

Thanks to a reader for bringing this to my attention. Mrs. PT and I have since made the proper changes and hope to be all squared away for next year. So if you, or someone you know is getting married this year, be sure not to make the same mistake we did. Make the change today.

What to Do When You Withdraw from Your IRA Early

Last Summer I decided to withdraw from my IRA early to use toward a down payment on our first home. I had a “basis” in this Traditional IRA (because I had previously paid the tax on some contributions…it’s a long story why I did this) and so I didn’t have to pay taxes upon withdrawal. Also, I was able to avoid any penalty because I used the money to purchase our first home.

If you’re in need of a bigger down payment, consider making this move for yourself. Here are the IRS rules for early withdrawal. You’ll need to complete a Form 5329 to let the IRS know that you’ve used the withdrawal for an exempt purpose.

How to Complete a Schedule C for Small Business Income and Expenses

Last but not least, I was able to include my blog’s very small income and increasing expenses (mainly the depreciation of a new computer) in a Schedule C. The loss from my business ended up reducing my taxes quite a bit.

I guess the main thing I learned from completing this schedule is that I’m going to have to get organized for next year. Income and expense will both increase greatly so I’ll need to do a better job of tracking both and making sure my personal and business finances remain separate. I’ve got a head start on this by opening up a separate bank account.

Okay, one more quick thing I learned this year: there are many ways to file your taxes for free!

Did you learn something new about your taxes this year? Share your story below…

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About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon. He created this website back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence. He uses Personal Capital to track his wealth. All the content on this blog is original and created or edited by PT.


  1. Can my ex husband claim my daughter as an exemption on his paycheck and I claim her at the end of the year?? He does not get to claim her at all on the taxes unless I allow him which I dont I claim her every year…

    • Philip Taylor says

       @Troubling EX Yes, he can put whatever he wants on his W4, but he should strive to be accurate so that he doesn’t end up owing a lot at tax time or getting back too big a refund. Just make sure only one of you claim her on the return. That’s the key.

  2. Charles LaSalle says

    I just got a job and initially on my tax forms I put a one down, because thats what I have always done.  Then when I saw how much was being taken out of my check, I went back and claimed three on my federal and state tax forms.  When I got my next paycheck, nothing changed.  I am single, with no kids, and am the head of the household.  Also, I just graduated college at the end of August.  What should I put down on my tax forms to get the most money back without owing the IRS any money back at the end of the year?

  3. I just got married at the end of June.  I recently finished graduate school and will begin working on August 1.  My wife has been working all year and will continue to do so for the remainder of the year.  We have zero other dependents.  We both have student loans.  She will be the high earner this year.  We were wondering how we should go about filling out our new W-4 forms?
    We aren’t particularly interested in getting a huge tax return at the end of the year, but also don’t want to owe the government.  Should I fill out my W-4 with 0 allowances and have her do 2 allowances (one for her, one for me)?  Help!  Thanks!

  4. MommyManda says

    So I am a single mother with one toddler, pregnant right now and have one job… im filling out me w-4 and am not really sure what to put for #5?

    • Philip Taylor says

       @MommyManda I’d have to know what your goal is. Are you looking to pay more taxes now and get a bigger refund back next year or are you looking to take home more of your money each paycheck and get a small refund at tax filing time. If you are just looking to fill out the form 100% accurate, you would claim between 4 and 6 allowances depending on when your baby will be born and how much in daycare expense you have.

  5. So I think I have ran into a huge problem. Im a single parent and I just got my my w2. I’ve filled out 6 w4 in my life and always need help. Getting to the point I saw that on my w2 the federal tax with held was only $2.40.I have been working there for 8 months and I knew something was wrong. Im gonna have a look at my w4 tomorrow. But I figured that since so much money was being with held from my check I was lookin forward to a good refund. Any suggestions?

  6. So I think I have ran into a huge problem. Im a single parent and I just got my my w2. I’ve filled out 6 w4 in my life and always need help. Getting to the point I saw that on my w2 the federal tax with held was only $2.40.I have been working there for 8 months and I knew something was wrong. Im gonna have a look at my w4 tomorrow. But I figured that since so much money was being with held from my check I was lookin forward to a good refund. Any suggestions?

  7. Thanks ffor sharing that. I have my own mortgage brokerage, and I am starting to do my own taxes, so this will help.

  8. Even though I might not be the best at my taxes (very simply this year, and had some help) I figured it was a great learning experience.

  9. @Shanti – yeah, i didn’t break into the itemized deduction club yet either. next year we’re sure to though with all the property tax we’ll have paid.

    @courtney – i agree. the security that comes with having a CPA do it is well worth the price. next year I’m *probably* going to turn it back over to my Dad.

  10. I admire anyone that can prepare their own taxes, CPA or not. We pay someone to prepare ours and we probably always will; however, as far as I’m concerned it’s money well spent for us.

  11. Shanti @ Antishay says

    Oh my goodness, I learned so much this year. This was the first year that the majority of my income came from working at home, and so I had to file a lot of 1099s and fill out schedule Cs. The number one thing I learned this year is that I need to track my mileage (non-reimbursed) for working at home – something that I didn’t do this year. I tried to estimate, but it became too much of a headache. Apparently this can be deducted if it’s enough, and this year it will be. I also didn’t get to use my car donation as a deduction because my standard deduction was higher. That’s something for people in the lower income brackets to learn!