(Don’t Risk It!) Get a Quality CPA to Prepare Your Taxes

I used to work in a CPA firm back in my 20s. Filing taxes was a part of the annual routine.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many advantages of having a CPA do your taxes. Below, I’m going to share my thoughts with you about why it matters, and for whom.

Do You Need a CPA to Prepare Taxes?

The answer to this question is … maybe. There are some cases (like when you have a super-simple return) that the services of a CPA might be overkill. However, there are so many benefits to working with a CPA that most people find it to be well worth the cost. While anyone can file their taxes on their own or use a different tax preparation solution, as the saying goes, just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Here are a few of the reasons why you’ll want to consider hiring a CPA.

Why Use a CPA to Prepare Your Taxes

Licensing:Practicing CPAs are required to hold a license through their particular state. In order for the CPA to maintain this license, he or she must generally do two things: (1) complete a certain number of continuing education hours (for example, taking a course on the latest tax deductions), and (2) run his or her business according to specific standards

These standards provide assurance to you that you’re getting a quality service. If you ever have a question about your CPAs legitimacy, you can contact your state’s board of public accountancy and request information about your CPA. Check out this website for a list of each state board’s contact information.

Consistency and Stability: A CPA is going to be there for you year after year. Practicing CPAs are in it for the long run.

Doors are Always Open: A CPA performs many types of financial services, not just taxes. Therefore, their doors are always open for tax questions, tax planning, and for any audit help you may need. Many other tax preparation services close their doors from May to December. Who’s going to help you when you get that audit letter? Your CPA will!

Record Retention: A CPA is going to maintain your tax information much like a doctor holds on the patient’s medical records. Your CPA will act as your own personal filing cabinet through the years. You’ll even get your own copy of the return and supporting documents in a nice little folder for you to file away yourself if you want. Digital formats are also becoming more prevalent.

Tax Planning: The best part about having a CPA is the tax planning advice he or she can provide throughout the year. There are certain year-end tax moves you can make that will save you hundreds in tax dollars. Software and tax preparation companies aren’t around to help you with those things.

Professionalism: As previously mentioned, a CPA is licensed with the state. They’ve gone through a ton of accounting classes, a tough exam, and must maintain continuing education credits each year. Only a person who wants to be a professional is willing to go through what it takes to be a CPA. Of course, CPAs are still just people. But I’ll take the CPA designation over any other type of tax filing option.

Your Time: The last good reason I’ll give you is your time. I’m not going to lie and say that you won’t have to spend a little time preparing your tax files to bring to a CPA. But these professionals will save you the time it takes to enter in all the information and file your return. Each year, the process also gets quicker as you learn exactly what you need to bring to your CPA.

How Much Does a CPA Charge to Prepare Taxes?

As with most things, the amount of money a CPA will charge to prepare your taxes varies depending on a number of factors, including the CPA’s billing method. Some of the most common billing methods include:

  • A flat fee for each tax form/schedule filed
  • A minimum fee, with additional charges for more complex situations
  • A set annual fee, with additional charges for changes in your tax situation
  • An hourly rate based on the amount of time it takes to prepare your return
  • A set fee for each data point that’s entered
  • A subjective amount based on the CPA’s discretion

You can also expect to pay more if you show up with a box full of disorganized paperwork. The more effort you put into preparing the information the CPA needs, the faster and less expensive your tax prep should be.

According to the National Society of Accountants, the average cost to hire a CPA in the United States ranges from $457 for an itemized Form 1040 with Schedule C and a state tax return to $176 for a Form 1040 with a state tax return. A Form 1040 with a Schedule A and a state tax return will run you an average of about $273. If this makes you gulp, remember that a CPA will often find ways to help you save you money on your taxes. In many cases, this will offset at least part, if not all, of their preparation fee.

When Not to Use a CPA

Generally speaking, you don’t need to use a CPA if you’ve got a simple return. If you only file a 1040EZ, or if you file a 1040, but take the standard deduction, a CPA wouldn’t be necessary. There are plenty of free tax filing services that you can use to quickly prepare and e-file your taxes.

Related: How to File Your Taxes for Free This Year

The Low-Down on Boxed Tax Solutions

Another viable option for those who don’t need a CPA or can’t stomach the thought of paying for one is a boxed solution, like Turbotax, TaxAct, or H&R Block online. These tax preparation programs typically cost between $10 and $120, so they are very cost-effective as long as you’re comfortable with a DIY solution. In fact, many offer their services for free if you have a simple return.

Once you’ve gathered all of your documents, you can typically prepare a simple return using one of these programs within an hour. Some software solutions also offer accuracy guarantees and will provide you with support if you are audited after using their program to file your taxes. Make sure you read the fine print and that you’re comfortable with the level of protection you’re receiving.

Ultimately, you’ll need to assess the complexities of your tax situation and your comfort with preparing your own taxes to determine whether a boxed tax-prep soultion is a good option for you.

Information for this post was provided by Larry G. Taylor, CPA, a CPA in Branson, MO. Larry provides tax, financial, and investment services. Visit www.larrytaylorcpa.com for more information.

Get a Quality CPA to Prepare Your Taxes

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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 Part-Time Money® 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.

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  1. I just came across this brilliant CPA, Lou Patten in Lake Worth, Florida. After searching for help with my taxes for years, I’ve finally found exactly what I needed. He’s affordable and handled my taxes personally.  I highly recommend him.  Here’s his website http://www.loupattencpa.com

  2. There are some really interesting points posted by all here. To start off, let me state that I’m a CPA practicing in NY and have experience in both tax and audit. I believe that many people are under the misconception that CPAs are just mere tax preparers. Although taxes are big part of being a CPA, the CPA license allows a practicing CPA to perform services that is only reserved for a CPA. Such services can’t be performed by an EA, CFP or just any accountant. These include attestation and assurance services, which relate to financial statements. This is where CPAs who provide these services may charge a pretty penny for and reasonably so, given the rigorous training and Continuing Education they must undergo. However, a lot of CPAs specialize in tax as it is the “necessary evil” and are even an integeral part of the financial statements they provide attestation services for. Just like doctors, attorneys, dentists, CFPs, EAs, CFAs, or any other professionals, CPAs specialize in different areas of the business, they include various areas of taxation and different industries. Depending on the complexity and your unique tax situation, it is wise to seek out the specialty of your potential CPA or tax preparer. Of course I’m not talking about the 1040EZ or even the simple 1040 filer, I’m talking about the person who wants advice on the best way to structure their new business venture, or the person who has multiple S-corps, LLCs, LPs etc. and has jobs in two different states and has foreign income… you get the idea… This is where you’ll reap the benefits of hiring a CPA, who will not only be your tax preparer, but your consultant to various and complex business matters. If anyone needs advice or assistance with their tax situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll try my best to help you and if I can’t, I’ll point you in the right direction!

    -Riz

  3. Melinda Bucknam says

    This was a really well-written article. I mentioned some similar facts on my own website. What a lot people don’t realize is that there are many CPA firms that charge about the same as most tax preparers (we’re one of them) so why do people still seem to flood H&R Block? I think it’s general unawareness.

  4. Dude, you were a CPA? I had no idea. You should be busting out some serious tax posts 🙂 Being a CFP, the only other designation I would want to have is the CPA. Taxes and investing go hand in hand and I would love to have the knowledge that my accountant has. Then again, instead of going to the trouble of taking the exam, I can just call him and get the answer 🙂

  5. For those looking to use a licensed preparers such as a CPA or EA, I’d encourage you to verify the credentials of the tax preparer, even if you used the same preparer from last year. You can go online to the state boards of accountancy if they are a CPA or the NAEA or IRS if they are an EA to verify this information.

  6. Zach Younkin says

    I still have two years or so until I graduate with my degree, but I hope to get my CPA shortly after I graduate.

    Younkin, Taylor, and Assoc has a good ring to it 🙂

  7. That’s great, Zach. Getting the CPA was tough for me, but I stuck with it. Persistence pays off. Younkin, Taylor, and Assoc? 🙂

  8. Very good information to know as I am in the process of working toward my accounting degree with the hopes of ending up with a CPA as well.

    Who knows, maybe we can even start our own tax firm, PT?

  9. Jo/Gaelicwench says

    There’s no need to defend CPAs; there are very many professionals out there with whom I would entrust doing my taxes. Goodonya for using your current skills as a form of income.

    I would much prefer going to a CPA to do my taxes over a company such as H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt (unless it was my ex who’s been employed by JH). CPAs will certainly charge a pretty penny for his services, but at least you know where you stand with him. After the debacle with the two abovementioned pushing for immediate “loans” against one’s tax refund, and to try and get you the biggest refund possible by claiming deductions that don’t apply, it’s made me very “shy” about going to them.

    As far as what to call yourself, to me it’s all politically correct blither blather. The fact that your credentials are up to date, you’re honest and you believe in continuing “edumacation” speaks volumes enough.

    Good luck, my friend!

  10. @Paul – Thanks for the info on the enrolled agent. I guess if the CPA is also an Enrolled Agent then you have double assurance. Congrats on going for the CFP.

  11. Ah the great debate of CPA v. EA. I’ve seen each equally good and equally not so great over the past 30 years. Regardless of which designation you think is best for you, the real sign of either a CPA or EA that is really ‘on your team’ is the one that makes sure you yourself participate with them in your tax preparation and tax planning. It is our job as professionals to make sure our clients at least have the knowledge to known when they would pick up that phone to check the tax consequences before major financial moves.

  12. Paul Williams says

    Under your section on professionalism, you say you’d rather take the CPA designation over any other for tax filing. I’d say a better designation would be an Enrolled Agent. They’re tested specifically on tax laws/rules only and are certified according to IRS standards. They know their stuff when it comes to taxes, probably more than the average CPA since CPAs are tested on a wider variety of topics.

    I’d also say using a CFP who prepares taxes would be better than going to a tax prep service (like Jackson Hewitt). They’d offer you some of the same benefits as CPAs (i.e., they’re open year-round). But I’m on my way to becoming a CFP so I’m probably biased. 😉