Y’all know what I mean. H&R Block. Jackson-Hewitt. So on, so forth. Stop using those.
Look, guys. This is now the 8th year I work in tax accounting. I am working towards my preparer’s certificate (which I should have by next year, huzzah) and will have my EA (Enrolled Agent) status in 5 years if all goes well. And there’s one thing you have to know:
When the tax-in-a-box service will inevitably fuck up your return, you will have to go to a pro to fix it anyway. Save yourself the trouble and go to a pro now.
At my old job, we got a few longtime clients this way. We had to fix everything that they had screwed up at H&R Block or that they themselves screwed up on TurboTax, and get this: most of the time, the client wouldn’t know it was screwed up in the first place! They go into this tax-in-a-box, trusting that the people who work there know what they’re doing. Here’s the thing: most of them don’t. There is a required training class to pass before working for one of those places, but it’s worthless. You don’t learn accounting with one course; you learn it best through studying the law for years, as CPAs do, and practicing, practicing, practicing. What would one course give you? Nothing!
I know you don’t want to pay the couple of hundred bucks to a CPA. Okay, fine. Find an EA instead; enrolled agents are not that far off from a CPA in terms of rights of representation, etc. Prices may vary, but if you’re not in the budget for a major Manhattan firm, then find a local person. Find a registered tax preparer – there’s plenty of them. Find someone who’s been in the business for several years. Why? Because you need that experience in your own tax prep. Even if your return is simple, when you owe the state and get a fat refund on federal, or vice versa, you want someone to tell you which credit gets recognized where (just as an example).
How would you know that TurboTax missed several deductions? You wouldn’t. Software isn’t enough.
How would you possibly know that with a Schedule C, you have to have a Schedule SE, that your free-file service didn’t automatically produce? You’d be surprised how many people don’t know this, and then are amazed when the IRS sends them a terse letter.
How does the kid doing your return at H&R Block know that there’s a first-time homebuyer credit? Just as an example. Not likely he would know it’s applicable to you unless he asks you when you bought your home. Would he? I doubt it.
Save yourself the headache. Have a professional tax preparer. Hire a CPA if you have the money for it. Seek out a neighborhood preparer; ask for references. Any way you cut it: unless you, yourself, are a tax professional, or all you have are W-2s and plug-them-in forms, then please, please hire a pro to do your taxes.
And if you are running close to April 15th, please, for the love of cheese, file an extension.