With every important job comes the question of whether or not individuals should do it themselves or hire a professional. While the ever-improving selection of tax preparation software certainly makes it easier to do your own taxes, it has hardly put Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and other personal tax preparers out of business.
Tax Software Vs a CPA: Which Is Right For You?
The Advantages of Using Tax Software
There is no way around the fact that you will pay less for a software package than you will to hire a CPA or another qualified tax professional. The price of tax preparation software ranges from almost zero for basic filers to several hundred dollars for more in-depth service and complicated returns. On the other hand, the least expensive tax preparers will cost at least $100 and a CPA is likely to charge at least twice that amount. The upfront savings of using tax software over an accountant is one of the most attractive benefits of filing your own taxes.
Once you have all the necessary documents in front of you, it is possible to complete your own taxes in less than an hour. In contrast, the best accountants will usually take from several days to a few weeks to process your paperwork and file your forms.
Good tax preparation software walks you through the process very quickly and easily. For those who have only a few deductions, sources of income, or investments, there is little need to sit down with an accountant to sort it all out.
The Benefits of Hiring a Professional Accountant
According to Denver CPA Carl Wehner, accountants pay around $1,000 to $6,000 for their software, which is far more sophisticated than the products sold to consumers. These more advanced programs have the ability to quickly scan your information and organize line items and forms correctly. By automating much of the data entry and organization, there's less chance for human error to hurt your tax return.
Like a good family doctor that knows your medical history, you can develop a relationship with an accountant so that he or she understands your family's financial situation and future goals. According to Wehner, who has been preparing taxes for 45 years, "A tax professional is often able to make valuable tax savings suggestions that a software program just can't anticipate." The value of this advice can easily exceed the additional cost of consulting with a professional. For example, a tax accountant can provide you advice on tax-friendly ways to save for your children's education, or how to reduce taxes on your capital gains.
Accountants Can Answer Your Questions Year Round
As a trusted professional, a good accountant will be able to answer important questions that arise not just during your annual consultation, but at other times during the year.
A CPA Saves You Time When Handling Complicated Issues
Taxpayers who find themselves at the center of complicated business and investment matters may even have the skill to sort through their taxes on their own, but is it worth their time? A professional tax preparer is so familiar with the system, he or she can quickly and easily accomplish tasks that might take even skilled taxpayers hours of research. For busy non-tax professionals, their time can generally be better spent earning money in their area of expertise. Even if your tax situation is straightforward, hiring a professional will save you the time and stress of doing your taxes.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, there is no universally correct answer to the question of hiring a tax professional or doing your taxes yourself with software. Your comfort and familiarity with IRS rules will be part of your decision, but the complexity of your finances should be the key deciding factor. Those with a single employer and few investments may save hundreds of dollars by preparing their own taxes, while those with business income or rental properties will find the expense of hiring an accountant to be worth their peace of mind and potential tax savings.