Are you wondering where to get your taxes done? What’s the best option for your tax situation? Maybe you want the cheapest place?
Tax preparation and filing can be simplified by doing a little research to choose the best option for you.
You can still go to an accountant or a retail tax preparation service, but an increasingly popular option is do-it-yourself software for tax preparation. And yes, there are some places to get your taxes done for cheap or even free.
Of course, you want to be sure you’re spending your money wisely and getting the best help possible for your tax situation. One of my Twitter followers tweeted me this:
How do you recommend people get their taxes “done”? Should we go to an accountant, or one of those places with the guy dressed as the statue of liberty standing outside waving a banner, or TurboTax (or the like)?
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The 3 Top Places to Get Your Taxes Done
As the question implies, there are three major players in the tax preparation game:
- Do-it-yourself tax software (e.g., TurboTax) ~$60 (starts at free)
- Full-time public accountants (CPAs and Enrolled Agents) and other traditional practitioners ~$323
- Retail tax preparation services (you know, the ones with the Statue of Liberty out front?) ~$175
Do-It-Yourself Tax Software
In an increasingly online world, many websites can assist you in getting your taxes done cheaply or even for free. Let’s talk about three useful online tax-prep resources: TaxSlayer, TurboTax, and H&R Block Online.
TaxSlayer is a dependable and easy-to-use online tax service. Initially developed for professional tax preparers, accountants, and CPAs in 1992, it provides an affordable way to do your own taxes. Even simple returns can be completed for free, with more complex ones up to $49.95 for those who have self-employment income. Read our full review of TaxSlayer.
TurboTax is a widely-used and reliable tax preparation software that makes it easy to file your taxes from the comfort of your own home. In addition to their free version, they offer three premium do-it-yourself options. For those looking for extra help, they provide three “Live” versions, providing access to TurboTax’s network of CPAs, enrolled agents and tax attorneys who can answer questions and provide advice as you work through your return. They recently added full-service tax preparation as well. Read our full review of TurboTax.
H&R Block is one of the biggest tax preparation providers in the US, responsible for one in seven returns. They offer 10,000 physical branches nationwide and online tax software to get your filing done quickly and easily. For peace of mind, their Tax Pro Review allows you to complete your return online and have it reviewed by a professional before submitting to the IRS. All online clients can add Tax Pro Review for extra assurance that their filing is accurate. And HRBlock.com offers an array of products and services that show H&R Block’s commitment to being your go-to tax provider every year. Read our full review of H&R Block.
For more, see our full list of the best tax software.
Average Price to File Taxes
Prices to file taxes can be all over the map because everyone’s situation is so different. I’ve put together some averages based on reliable sources that should give you an idea of what to expect when you go to file.
1. Do-It-Yourself Tax Software
Most people who don’t itemize their taxes should be able to get away with a free federal and state tax return. For those who itemize, the average price to file will be around $70 per return (according to TurboTax and H&R Block websites). For those with a business, rental property, or other investments to report, the average price will be around $150 per return.
2. Full-Time Tax Pros (aka your local CPA)
According to the National Society of Accountants, it will run you an average of $294 per return to work with a CPA. That nearly $300 price tag is for an itemized 1040 filing with state tax return.
An unitemized 1040 with a state tax return will only set you back $188. When I used to prepare taxes, I didn’t charge this much (more like $75-$125). However, that was over ten years ago, so pricing has likely adjusted since then.
3. Retail Tax Prep Offices (H&R Block, Liberty Tax, etc)
CBS news reported that “The average fee at the national tax service firms H&R Block and Liberty Tax Service is $147 per return and $191 per return, respectively.”
Need to get your taxes done? Here are the 3 best places to get your taxes done this year. #taxesClick to tweet
Why Do-It-Yourself Tax Software is Cheapest
One thing to note is that each tax preparation option is working at a different price-point. Software is typically the cheapest–but don’t assume that cheapest means worst. Tax software can absolutely be the best option for you.
That’s because tax software has become extremely sophisticated over the years. Don’t look to a professional to outsmart the software, since they are probably just using a professional version of the software themselves.
Ultimately, tax software is cheap because all software is cheap. It’s a digital product that is easy to store and replicate. It may also offer the best tax preparation experience for a number of taxpayers and can be an excellent choice for your tax return.
Why Pay a CPA
That being said, going to a flesh-and-blood tax professional may be the best option for many taxpayers. That’s because a professional CPA can help you navigate the difficult tax questions like business structure, tax planning moves, etc. that pop up throughout the year.
Software has a harder time with this. You can’t have lunch with software to discuss your small business.
CPAs are usually the most expensive option, but you’re paying for someone to help you with a complex tax situation or to give you that extra assurance.
Check Out: Get a Quality CPA to Prepare Your Taxes
Retail Tax Prep – Splitting the Difference
Right down the middle is the retail tax preparation–the places where you see the dancing Statue of Liberty outside. This option generally costs less than a CPA but more than DIY tax software, and it also offers the middle ground in terms of professional support.
Retail tax prep is there to serve the client who wants a bit of help but doesn’t want to pay a premium practitioner on an ongoing basis. If you don’t have tax questions throughout the year, but still feel a little overwhelmed by tax preparation, the retail option could be the best choice for you.
Free Tax Preparation Assistance Resources
There are a few places that will provide free assistance to you if you qualify. Usually, this is reserved for the elderly/disable, or folks with low-income.
For instance, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will provide free tax help to people who generally make $66,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers.
Another is The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program, who offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older. TCE volunteers specialize in answering questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.
Finally, AARP’s Foundation Tax-Aide is a program that provides free tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers, with special attention to those 60 and older.
Getting Ready to Do Your Taxes
If even thinking about filing your taxes has you breaking out in a sweat, you’re not alone. Our tax code is lengthy and confusing, so it’s very common for people to dread doing their taxes. But just getting started can feel empowering, and there’s no need to stress.
This year, start by getting a folder (paper or digital) and collecting anything you think you might need. Also, review last year’s tax return. This will give you, or your CPA, an idea of what this year’s taxes will look like and will help you get ideas about the information you need.
Once you know the forms and documentation you will need for this year’s taxes, commit to keeping track of these things this year. Being organized will make doing your taxes next year less stressful. For example, if you find out you need all your medical receipts this year, create a system for keeping track of those throughout the year. That way you don’t have to go digging next year.
Which Option is Best for YOU?
My honest and short answer is that it depends. For most of us, choosing online tax prep software will work perfectly well. Most people who have used online software will tell you it is very intuitive and thorough. The software will walk you through the pros and cons if you’re debating a deduction. The software will explain if you aren’t sure which forms you need. The process is incredibly comprehensive and educational.
However, if you simply feel more comfortable going to a licensed tax professional in person, there’s nothing wrong with that.
That said, there are plenty of options that make it easy to file your taxes online. The point is that filing online is the way to go if you don’t have an extremely complex financial situation. Remember that you can go through the process of preparing your taxes with an online software and if you aren’t satisfied when it comes time to file–you don’t have to pay! (That’s because you won’t file.)
You can take the information and walk into an H&R Block or have a tax professional complete it for you.
The bottom line is that the more complex your financial situation is (i.e. rental properties, heavy stock trades, crypto, small business, income from multiple states,) the more likely it is that you should use a professional, like a CPA, to help you with tax planning and filing your taxes. For the rest of us, filing online is the way to go.
Simplify Tax Time With Quickbooks Online
Self-employed folks may feel extra layers of stress around tax time because their finances can be rather complicated, with income from multiple sources, for example. Quickbooks Online is a practical tool that simplifies tax preparation for the self-employed.
With Quickbooks Online, self-employed folks can get real-time estimates on their quarterly taxes, plus handy filing deadline reminders. This helps ensure you’re paying your quarterly estimated taxes on time and accurately, removing much of the confusion of tax season.
They’ll automatically track your income and expenses and help you find all of your eligible tax deductions. Using Quickbooks Online can be illuminating for an entrepreneur because they’ll automatically update your income and expenses to reflect how much you’re truly bringing home. Their tax estimates show you an accurate picture of your finances.
Quickbooks Online provides automatic business mileage tracking for self-employed people and side hustlers who do any driving required for work. It takes the pain out of tracking business mileage and keeping your various driving categories (business, personal, medical, etc.) separate.
The Simple version of Quickbooks Online is ideal for a small business owner or someone with a side hustle. There are also a couple of more expensive versions in case you need more robust services.
Take Time to Understand Your Taxes
I can’t stress this enough: there is no substitute for your own personal knowledge of your tax information. Unless your situation is extremely simple, no one but you could possibly know all of the details of your financial situation.
You should really strive to understand your own taxes, even though it will require some effort. Start with last year’s return. Look at the different sections (income, deductions, itemized deductions and exemptions, credits, and tax payments) and learn how they work together.
If you use a CPA, have them thoroughly review the return with you so that you understand what they did. A tax preparer of any kind (software, retail, professional) should really be for assurance, not so that you can turn a blind eye to what is going on.
Do you want to use the CPA I use to get my taxes done? Check out my Dad’s CPA firm, Taylor & Associates.