Suppose you are one of the roughly 73.4 million Americans the IRS estimates use paid preparers to complete and file their electronic tax return or plan to become one. What can you expect to pay for tax preparation fees this filing season?
- More than half of American taxpayers seek professional help preparing and filing their electronic tax returns.
- Tax accountants and online preparation services are available at various price points and vary based on the complexity and amount of time needed to process the return.
- The preparer's skill level and expertise will also come into play, with CPAs and tax attorneys charging a higher base rate than seasonal workers or PTINs.
Variables That Affect Tax Preparation Fees
Most preparers charge a flat fee per return, but some may charge an hourly rate. Many variables can determine what you’ll pay for this service.
Type of return. The return you file affects the price you’ll pay for preparation. According to a National Society of Accountants study in 2021:
- The average fee for preparing Form 1040 with Schedule A to itemize personal deductions, and a state income tax return, was a flat fee of $323.
- The average fee for Form 1040 with the standard deduction, plus a state income tax return, was $220.
- The additional fee for Schedule C for a sole proprietor/independent contractor was $192.
- The additional fee for Schedule D to report capital gains and losses was $118.
- The additional fee for Schedule E to report rental income and losses was $145.
So individuals whose returns require Schedules A, C, D, and E paid an average total fee of $778.
Your location. Fees vary considerably across the country. Those in the Southeastern U.S. pay the lowest costs, while those in New England and the West Coast pay the highest.
The expertise of the preparer. The credentials of the preparer, as well as their experience, also have an impact on the fees that are charged. For example, a certified public accountant (CPA) usually charges more than an enrolled agent.
Determine Your Needs
Before you select the person or firm that will help you, decide what you require.
Complexity. The more complex your return, the more you’ll pay for preparation because you’ll likely need an experienced preparer. A person with investments classified as passive activities may face higher preparation fees because the preparer must determine items such as carried-over losses and not merely fill in the numbers.
The volume of work. An individual with one rental property will not pay the same fee as another with ten properties, each requiring numerous entries on Schedule E for rental income and expenses, including depreciation calculations.
Special situations. Certain types of transactions may require additional time and advice for tax preparation, such as a “listed transaction,” which the IRS has designated as an abusive transaction that requires another form to disclose it on the return as required by tax law; the preparer may also offer advice about what to do with the investment going forward.
Select the Best Preparer for You
Look at the type of preparer that can meet your needs. Your choices for a paid preparer include:
Attorney: Some licensed attorneys may have an advanced legal degree in taxation. Working with an attorney can afford attorney-client privilege for matters discussed if they establish a so-called Kovel Agreement, whereby the taxpayer hires a tax attorney who, in turn, engages the services of a tax accountant to prepare the returns.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA): a person who has passed the Uniform CPA examination and is licensed as a CPA. A CPA may specialize in tax preparation and planning.
Enrolled Agent: a person who passed the Special Enrollment Examination and has completed continuing education courses. Like attorneys and CPAs, an enrolled agent has unlimited representation rights before the IRS.
Annual filing season program participant: a person who is not an attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent but has completed the IRS’s Annual Filing Season Program. Such a person has limited representation rights before the IRS.
PTIN holder: a person who is not one of the above but has obtained a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) to file tax returns this filing season; they have limited representation rights before the IRS.
Check a preparer’s credentials, including whether they have a valid PTIN for this filing season, through the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers.
How Much Does It Cost to File Taxes With a CPA?
In 2021, the average cost of hiring a certified public accountant (CPA) to prepare and submit a Form 1040 and state return with no itemized deductions was $220, while the average fee for an itemized Form 1040 and a state tax return was $323. Costs will go up as the complexity of a return increases.
How Much Does it Cost to Do My Own Taxes Online and E-File?
Many online software systems like TurboTax offer free versions for federal tax returns. More complicated returns may cost over $200 or more, depending on the complexity of the return.
What's the Difference Between an Accountant and a Tax Preparer?
The difference in cost between an accountant and a tax preparer depends on the individual. Because a certified public accountant provides financial services beyond tax preparation, they may be more expensive than hiring a tax preparer to file basic taxes.
The Bottom Line
More than half of American taxpayers seek professional help preparing and filing their electronic tax returns. Before you choose a preparer, ask for a quote on the fees you’ll be charged. Consider the preparer's credentials and level of expertise if your return is unusual or complicated.