During the first couple months of every year, I am frequently asked, “Where should I go to get my taxes done?” And I usually respond with the question, “Have you tried filing your return on your own?”
For those that haven’t tried filing their taxes on their own, it can be rather intimidating. Growing up watching the process my parents went through to file taxes made me think it would always be best to pay someone else to do it.
I remember tax days well. My parents would sit down at the kitchen table together for hours with a massive amount of paperwork. My 3 siblings and I always knew that tax day was the 1 day of the year that we had better be on our best behavior. In fact, we made a point to lay low and be as invisible as possible. None of us wanted to be the one that laid the last piece of straw on our dad’s back.
But, being the cheap person that I am, I decided to save some money and file taxes on my own, even having seen myself how frustrating it could be for my parents. With a number of years under my belt, I am quite comfortable filing taxes myself now and I actually look forward to it. There are a number of great computer programs out there that make the process very simple and fairly idiot proof (which is very important in my case). It a shame my dad never lived long enough to experience electronic tax filing. He would’ve experienced a whole lot less stress with today’s process.
The IRS has a great website (irs.gov) that can help to answer most tax questions. Most individuals can file their federal taxes for free using the tools available on their site. It can be a very simple process that takes me an hour at most. I just grab my tax documents (w-2, previous years taxes, student loan interest statements, etc.) and plug in the numbers that the program asks for.
Now, that being said, there are definitely times when it’s a good idea to get professional help. If your tax situation is particularly complex or if you are very concerned about not doing it right, by all means, hire a professional. But, if you have never tried it on your own, why not give it a shot?
What I really love about the tax programs available through the IRS is that you can fill in all of your information, review the results and then choose whether or not you wish to file them. If you are really nervous about going it on your own and feel that you really need a tax professional to do them, I would suggest you do just that. But before you have a professional file your taxes, go through the process yourself online without actually submitting your tax filing. That way, you can compare the results of your efforts on your own and those that were done professionally. If the results were the same, then go ahead a try it on your own next year and save yourself some money in the process.
However you choose to file your taxes, with just 3 weeks before the deadline, if you haven’t already taken care of it, you had best get on it.
Joshua Huffman is an NFCC certified financial professional with The Village Financial Service Center.