Tax Prep

I’ve been using tax-preparation software to do my taxes for years, and I don’t want to do it anymore. I want someone else to do it. Even with the software, I end up intensely frustrated: partly because I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do, and partly because the tax forms every citizen MUST fill out should not be so complicated that a college-educated citizen can’t figure out what to do EVEN WITH helpful guiding software. Plus, we got a follow-up question on our financial aid forms from a college Rob applied to, which brought to light that I may have failed to take a large deduction I could have taken last year and the two years previous.

Anyway, that brings us to now. Here are the two options I’m considering:

1. My friend has just this year made this same decision about having someone else handle it, and she got a recommendation for a local accountant who does tax preparation. My friend says this woman seems very nice and competent. Upside: the personal recommendation; I can picture getting to know her and having her get to know me, and having that make taxes easier. Downsides: her office is in a dark and slightly scary location; I don’t actually know anything more about her; one day she would retire and I would feel stressed starting over with someone new.

2. There’s an H&R Block near me. It says “walk-ins welcome.” Upsides: I can just walk in, I don’t have to make the scary call for an appointment; feels more anonymous; it’s a big company which makes me feel less like I have to personally check their credentials. Downsides: They’d care less about my business, I would guess, but maybe not, I don’t know.

But notice how many of these upsides and downsides are based on guessing. I don’t really know anything about this. I am hoping for input. ANY input: differences you’ve found in costs, differences you’ve found in quality, anything you know about the differences between hiring an accountant and going to H&R Block, and also between those two things and any third or fourth option I haven’t considered.

[By the way, we are having some trouble with posting comments and commenting. I have Paul looking into it, and he is figuring it out, but it is taking time and he still has to get in touch with the website…host…or whatever, and then they have to fix whatever the issue is on their end. So you may notice weirdness for awhile with: new posts not showing up; edits not showing up; comments not showing up; comment fields auto-filling with weird information. The only solution I have right now is to hard-refresh, which on my Mac is done by holding down shift and command and then pressing R.]

57 thoughts on “Tax Prep

  1. elizabeth

    I would recommend that you simply ask around and get some recommendations. Surely one of your friends uses (and would recommend) a CPA that doesn’t have a scary office location. Also, my CPA is in another state (my husband has been using him for years, since before he moved to my state and met/married me), and we have never been to his office. We exchange everything through fed ex and email/dropbox. So maybe you don’t even need to go to the office and/or maybe if someone you know recommends one that isn’t near you, the recommended CPA would help you anyway. I don’t know anything about H&R Block, but my CPA doesn’t charge very much (a few hundred bucks per year) and we don’t do much besides collecting our W-2s and other tax stuff and send it over to him, so it’s easy for us.

  2. Maria

    H&R Block is a big company. But they hire just about anyone off of the streets to work every spring. So I’d say your concerns about background checks for employees is valid. People are brought in and trained to do the basics, but they are not taught every loophole or benefit. I’d look for a small firm. That way you could develop a relationship and with more than one accountant. And when one retires or leaves there will be others you’re familiar with.

  3. Anne

    Hey, I can answer this! (I’m a CPA.)

    Price: It kinda depends on what all is in your return in terms of income and deductions (what was the big possibly missed deduction?), but generally H&R Block is going to be cheaper. Individual tax preparers and CPAs like me are great when you have more complex things going on, but if you have a reasonably average return then a place like H&R Block will usually be a little cheaper.

    Relationship: If you want someone you can go to with questions that come up in the summer or whatever then I’d lean more towards an individual preparer. If you just want someone to prep your return every year and then leave you alone I’d go H&R Block.

    Competency: You can get a good return done either place. The more complex your return is, the more I’d lean towards an individual tax preparer, but H&R Block can handle a fair amount.

    On the anxiety side it’s whichever sounds scarier to you. For me I’d rather deal with the big company and feel a bit more anonymous and be somewhere I feel safer driving and walking and being, but YMMV.

  4. Alison

    My oldest friend is now a CPA and tax lawyer. He says that the random people in places like H & R may in fact be quite good, but they do take applicants without any prior experience and do a relatively quick training. It’s not that different from, say, using TurboTax on your own. (I may be mistaken, but I have heard from other non-tax people that tax preparation places that are not accounting firms use very similar but proprietary software, someone is just paid to input the info for you.) A CPA who has a good reputation is the right way to go if you’re concerned about missing deductions, have complications, etc. What I did was: have my friend do my taxes when my situation was more complicated (independent contracting, college fees and income, scholarships, etc.), and now I use TurboTax since I have a pretty straightforward return.

  5. LM

    I’ve had experience in all areas. I had a trusted tax accountant (based on a friend recommending him). He was fabulous. Wonderful guy, We chatted each year and it was nice and no pressure. Then he died of cancer. I couldn’t bring myself to find another accountant (same social issues as you have! Phones! People! Unknown!) so I used TurboTax for several years….until I got a letter from the IRS that I had done something wrong (to the tune of $1k, but not penalty thank goodness). Then we moved and I tried to use TT again but with dual states and too many odd forms, I threw in the towel and found a new tax dude in my new city (based on website, and yelp!) Gathered everything up, brought it in, had a nice 30-40 min chat/get to know session and he did my taxes and the results were WAY better than what I had computed on TT. Now each year I just bundle up and drop off and he calls me when it’s done. SO PAINLESS. And it’s nice to have “a guy (or gal)” that you can call through the year for guidance. So there. I guess I would say to me, totally worth it to find a tax accountant to build a relationship vs HR Block.

  6. Erin

    I unfortunately don’t have a good recommendation for finding an accountant- my husband is a math person and started doing our taxes by hand a few years ago.

    But I did want to say DON’T USE TURBOTAX. When my husband went back over the taxes we’d done with TT, he found over $2000 that we should have gotten back for the past 2 years. So a related tip…you CAN submit amended tax returns years later and get the money for the deduction you should have taken, so it might be a good idea to find someone to look at your 2015 return?

  7. SheLikesToTravel

    I would try to find a tax person/small firm too. I think if you went with H&R Block, every year would be a small anxiety as you met someone new each year. If you found a tax person/small firm this year, you might be slightly more uncomfortable this year, but every other year would be much, much easier.

  8. Lindsey

    There’s also the option that you can use the same person at H&R Block every year. We move frequently for my husband’s job and so for me it’s been easier to go to H&R Block because they can pull up your return from last year with all the information saved no matter if you go to the same location. But what I do is look at all the preparers in a location and look for one who is a master preparer and has a lot of experience and who has experience with the areas I need help with. Then I make an appointment online. And then the next year I make an appointment with the same person. I really liked the woman who did our taxes the last 3 years. We moved this year and now I’ll have to start over :(

  9. Jesabes

    I also do my own taxes and am growing increasingly sick of it – honestly, I am up to 5 different forms this year just related to healthcare and it’s getting ridiculous. It’s hard to tell which forms are duplicates from different sides of the equation (one from my husband’s employer, one from the insurance company), which are new, and where I put them in.

    But. I’ve also been recruited to work at H&R Block! (I’m an accountant.) Which was pitched to me as being basically the same thing…putting other peoples info into a system like the one I use for my own taxes. That gives me great anxiety (the responsibility!) and not much confidence. I mean, when I do finally finish my taxes I have the satisfaction of putting together a big puzzle and do think I’ve done well. Plus, I was promised the vast majority people coming to H&R Block have REALLY simple taxes and would be hard to screw up. If you *don’t* have simple taxes, you probably wouldn’t get the newbie.

  10. Mommyattorney

    Not H&R Block. I once did mine in TT, thought that I had made a mistake, so I took it to H&R Block. They missed things that I had found in TT and confirmed that I hadn’t made a mistake. We would have owed more with H&R Block.

  11. M

    You might want to have the accountant look into whether you can amend your previous returns to get the deduction you were missing. I’ve always been happy with my accountant, and have never used H&R Block. Also, I just send my accountant everything in the mail, and don’t meet with him in person. Any questions can usually be handled over email.

  12. Mandy

    I wouldn’t do walk-in H&R Block. I had a confusing thing in my taxes some years ago that prompted me to go to them, and the person at the walk-in place said that I should just make up the number. When I said, “no” to that plan, they then said that in that case, my taxes were too complicated for them and that I ought to go to the more elevated H&R Block people. The “elevated people” have gone through some iterations in their name over the last few years, but are currently marketed as Block Advisors.

    I started with one woman who I liked quite a bit. When she retired, they recommended someone else in the same office. I don’t like her quite as much, but she does a good job. I debate whether or not I’m going to stick with Block Advisors after we move– I don’t like the feel, and they do cost a few hundred dollars (I’m self-employed and have complicated taxes that are getting more complicated, hence the price). But I do like that if I were ever audited, they’d be part of dealing with it. And it’s a relief to have someone else doing the paperwork. I would worry too much about making mistakes on my own.

  13. Jenny Grace

    When the tax prep lady retires she will have a list of recommendations for who you should go to next, and will be willing to pass along all your relevant to doing your taxes info. I vote for her in general because not only is it nice to have a personal recommendation, and nice to have a personal relationship with the people who handle your money, but it’s nice to support the ‘small businesses’ of the world.
    Also, it seems likely that you could amend you previous returns, and get that deduction. Either H&R Block or the accountant woman could help you with it in a relatively painless way (relatively painless assuming you have saved PDFs of your prior years’ returns)

    1. Jenny Grace

      Oh I also want to add that most paid accountants doing your taxes for you are using software that’s pretty similar to what you are using to do them yourselves. Bonus, they are doing it for you!

  14. Elizabeth

    Just chiming in to say that I’ve found this comments section particularly helpful. If it were me (based on the comments so far) I’d go to a tax accountant and avoid H&R.

    Reasons: Continuity in relationship, possibility of sending him/her records electronically, long-term help with your college finance questions for your younger children, well-trained expert should you have complexities in the future, supporting smaller business, first year pain for long term gain etc….

    Good luck!

    1. Lisa Capasso

      We started using an accountant 12 years ago when we had 6 W-2s across four states and doing it by TurboTax made it appear we owed a lot of money. My mom suggested her friend’s accounting firm, and they found a number of deductions that we qualified for, so we actually got a return instead. I’ve been using the same guy at that firm ever since, even though we’ve moved a bunch since then and we are now on opposite coasts. I just gather up all our stuff, put it in a pdf and fax it to him. I call him, we discuss, he files it and sends us a paper copy. Its easy and worth the money. We started out paying $175 (the office is near Philly) back then. Our stuff is a bit more complicated and we also discuss more financial planning issues now, so this year we paid $330.

  15. Ali

    Definitely go with the local recommendation. Someone who is doing this every day for years is far more likely to be current on possible deductions and that sort of thing than someone at HR Block. Not that HR Block is bad, but it’s no better than using software on your own. We use a local CPA and pay approx $300/yr…and we have more complicated things like self employment going on. Now that we have a relationship with him, we just email documentation. For what it’s worth, I’m an accountant professionally (though I do corporate accounting, not taxes) and I still find it WELL worth it to spend the money have taxes done professionally each year…they are far more likely to find deductions that I didn’t even realize possible.

  16. Kym

    My husband would do our taxes with a tax software for years, but he’d put it off until the last minute (because doing taxes sucks) and then be super grumpy leading up to and during the entire thing. The year that I was a surrogate our taxes got a little more complex with the compensation I received so I started using a tax guy. BEST DECISION EVER. It’s easy for me to scan documents at work (and I believe you said your new printer has an easy scan function?) and I just send everything to him via email. He’ll ask good questions once he has all my documents, making sure I didn’t forget to send him anything that could result in a deduction. I pay him $350, but I really feel like it’s worth every penny. At the end after we’ve reviewed our returns, we sign/scan/email back one page and he submits everything electronically for us. I’ve never met him, never talked to him on the phone, and never had to do more than scan/sign documents. It’s pretty lovely.

  17. Kelsey

    So I had a close relative who trained to work with H&R Block and ultimately did not because they encouraged him to sell various products/services, beyond what people might be coming in for and that made him uncomfortable. This was several years ago, but I think of it whenever I see a commercial about them!

    My parents probably should have someone doing their taxes, but my father had always done them himself. A couple of years ago, he was audited and it ended up being almost a full-time job for my mom to track down all the necessary information. I would be curious to know whether a tax professional you’d hired would help, should you be audited. That alone would be worth building a relationship with such a person.

    Having said all that – my husband, the banker, does our taxes…

  18. MomQueenBee

    You need someone like Husband, who is a small practice CPA. He sees the same clients year after year, and they range from the retired lady who was the janitor in his dorm to multi-millionaires. He meets personally with each client before and after doing the work so that they know what he’s done and why, and knows each one personally. Depending on the complexity of your return, it will cost a few hundred dollars (although the janitor and anyone who reminds him of his mom gets the Little Old Lady discount and pays only filing fees). He knows his people, and in the off chance they are audited, he has all the records on file. DO NOT go to H&R Block. This is the equivalent of paying someone to do your tattoo because they had watched one done on YouTube.

  19. Rah

    Nothing new to add, although we have a satisfactory, ongoing relationship with “our” person at H&R Block; after years and years of doing it myself, I also found myself just anxiety ridden at the thoughts of doing it again! I do want to echo others who suggested that you consider amending previous years’ tax returns if it would benefit you. The accountant you choose could assist you with the revisions, even if they didn’t do the original return. They might even identify some things beneficial changes you haven’t yet discovered! And a not-well-known fact: You can also revise your financial aid forms, if you’ve had a change in taxable income. Best wishes!

  20. Kara

    My taxes are relatively straight-forward, so I do use Turbo Tax. If I have any questions, I call my Mom, who does taxes for people during tax season (yes, she’d do mine too, if I asked but she’s out of state).

    Anecdote time- one of my employees came in bragging about how he already did his taxes and already got his return (it was January 26th this year). I was impressed, and said I was still waiting on my interest form from my mortgage company, and asked him if he just got his off the lender’s website. He got all quiet and asked why I’d need that. Turns out he’d NEVER claimed his mortgage interest and the lady who’s done his taxes for the past 5 years never asked about it either. I don’t know how you can miss such a big thing. So, he’s in the process of refiling as many years as possible, since buying his house in 2013.

  21. Gina

    I did ours for years, until my husband had a small business, then we started going to someone. Even after he wasn’t working for himself anymore we continued to do it because even thought it costs a little more, we found a great independent person who find us deductions, etc that I would never have myself – even with the awesome software that is set up to do so.

  22. HKS

    I like the recommendation for the local CPA. My taxes are simple but I do not have the patience or desire to do them myself so I use the same CPA that my parents do, even though he’s out of state for me. He was recommended to us by a financial adviser and his office sends a checklist each year with what forms I need to send them and a reminder to send along anything else that might be new that year or anything that I have questions about.

  23. Ashley

    Just wanted to second (third, fourth, fifth) the recommendation not to bother with H&R Block. We have a couple of friends who have worked there seasonally and both said that they just use a program exactly like Turbo Tax, only they input the data for you. If you are sick enough of it that you want to pay someone else to do the data entry, then go for it, but to me that wouldn’t be worth the money.

    This year for the first time I’m using a CPA because I own a small business now. It has been great! I met with him once in person earlier this year. He’s available to answer questions I have throughout the year (doesn’t charge anything if it’s just a quick question in an e-mail–like you, I avoid the phone as much as possible). I didn’t have to go to his office to have my taxes done. He sent me a questionnaire and a checklist of documents he needed from me and I put it all together and sent it to him via e-mail/Fedex. It’s a small firm with about half a dozen accountants, so if anything happens and the person who I am currently working with is no longer available, I imagine he would pass me along to someone else in the firm. Pretty simple, overall!

  24. Nancy

    We went to H&R Block one year and it was so frustrating. The guy typed everything with one finger and I’m still convinced he was using TurboTax. It was all I could do to not jump over the desk and grab the keyboard and just type everything myself. Last year, we went to a CPA who was highly recommended by a friend and it was a nightmare. He told us, Oh you’ll be getting this much back and when we picked everything we owed over $1000! He didn’t even bother to call to tell us he screwed up. I called in a fit and he barely apologized. We’re going back to TurboTax this year. At least if we owe, we’ll know we’re not paying someone else on top of it.

  25. Kristin H

    I highly recommend finding someone personal and sticking with them as long as possible.

    One major plus to this is they get to know you, they know your situation, and there are fewer and fewer questions as the years go on. For me this is a huge plus. I am part owner of an S-Corp so the whole ball of wax is confusing and complicated. When I first became owner and things started getting complicated, I tried H&R Block. They just weren’t familiar enough with my situation to do a good job, in my opinion. I’m sure it varies depending on who you get, but I could tell the woman really wasn’t sure how to handle what I had going on.

    I’ve since switched to the accountants we use at work, and while it PAINS me to pay them about $500 a year to do my taxes, I know I’m getting the best possible information, the maximum in deductibles, and it’s them the IRS will call if there’s ever a question, not me. AND I don’t have to do the taxes myself. The money is painful, but any other option is more painful.

  26. Anna

    The personal recommendation is good- and you can always try the CPA this year and see if you like it. If you have complicated assets and deductions it can be worth it to know that a professional looked everything over. A few years ago, when my husband owned a business and we owned a house and there were stocks etc etc, we went to Jackson Hewitt and had the taxes done, on the assumption that we might miss something costly on our own. They DO have some SKETCH locations, since some of them are seasonal, and it was expensive (multiple 100s of $$$) but it seemed worth it at the time. Now, we live in an apartment and my husband is a grad student, so our tax situation is simpler and he does them with TurboTax, bless him.

  27. Britni

    I went to an H&R Block once and had a terrible experience. Advertised a price of $50.00. Then for each form/question/other issue you had the price just kept going up. I had two jobs so there was another $20 fee for having two W2 forms. I had a pension account that had sent me a 1099 – there was another $20 because I was adding an additional form. It kept going up like that until I ended up walking out.

    I go to a lady that is also in a scary location (used to be house under the underpass of the highway) and I love her. I know her kids, her kids kids, and she is very helpful with trying to get me credit for education expenses, etc. She has advised me on lots of things (places to look for apartments because the taxes are cheaper in that township, ideal amount to withhold each year, etc). Also, if there were ever any issues with my taxes, she would deal directly with the IRS on my behalf and cover all fees associated with any errors.
    So. Person that came recommended is my vote!

  28. Katie

    My husband did our taxes himself for many years, but two years ago I convinced him to go to an accountant. It made us anxious looking for one, but once we decided on someone in our area, we were very pleased with the results. She even redid our previous two years at a discount and got us back a bunch of money. It also cost less than I was expecting it would.

    I used H&R Block when I was single because I had to file in multiple states and I felt that it was very expensive, and that I could’ve done what he was doing all by myself if I could’ve just sat in front of his computer. It felt like I was paying someone to input my info on turbo tax for me. Maybe there’s more to it than that, but it didn’t feel worth the time or money.

  29. Meredith

    I would use a tax accountant who is recommended by someone you trust (the woman recommended to your friend may qualify, depending on the degrees of separation). Another source of a referral would be the lawyer you had prepare your wills (I seem to recall that being something you did a couple years ago?). Trusts & estates lawyers tend to know lots of tax people and they will already know a fair amount about your circumstances to be able to recommend someone specific to what you need and want.

    The office location may not be a huge issue as you may only need to go there once, to give her all the documents she’ll need (that’s how my guy works — he just FedExes us the docs to sign after he’s prepared everything, but of course others may do it differently).

    I personally do not have a positive impression of walk-in franchises for this purpose. Also if the individual you hire retires, she will certainly have contacts in the area who could take you on as a client. I’m very impressed that you have been handling taxes yourself for so long — it will be a HUGE weight off your shoulders to make this change!

  30. Kate

    We used a CPA for the first time for our 2015 taxes. In addition to doing our 2015 taxes, he reviewed our 2014 taxes (that husband had done). When he found deductions we could’ve taken, he filed an amendment to our 2014 taxes, and we got more money back! The money we got back from our 2014 amendment was more than what it cost for him to do the 2015 taxes and 2014 review/amendment. Highly recommend going to a CPA with tax experience (not all CPAs do).

    Not sure where you’re located, but if you’re in Georgia, feel free to pull my email address and email me if you want his contact info.

  31. sooboo

    My mom had a tax attorney she used in my hometown and then he died and his son (also a tax attorney) took over. Then my mom died and I still use the son to do my taxes. He lives 400 miles away from me and we do everything through the mail and email. I’ve actually never met him. I’m kind of glad, as he has a sexy phone voice and I don’t want to ruin the mystique.

    Going to the sketchy part of town adds an extra layer of stress to an already painful chore so I’d ask friends and family for recommendations. The person doesn’t have to be in the same town as you but if they aren’t you will have to talk to them on the phone a bit. I used H and R Block years and years ago and it was impersonal and they missed stuff that should have caught.

    I’m pretty sure that tax lawyers cost more than regular accountants. The reason I use a lawyer is because I write artist as occupation and I’ve been told that’s a red flag for an audit. I write off his services as a business expense and he charges me on a sliding scale depending on what we made that year. It costs between 200-400. I’m probably paying too much, but I never worry about it and for me, that’s worth it.

  32. caro

    I used to go to H&R Block, but I had a bad experience, and was a poor newly-employed teacher. My brother ended up recommending a local volunteer organization that provides taxes to individuals or families who make under a certain salary level. This was great until I made more money. I ended up calling a local CPA, and they were cheaper than H&R by $20. I had a very simple return though. So, all this to say, I recommend against H&R Block.

  33. Joanne

    I do my own taxes now, using tax prep software, but I’ve had them done by a CPA (my parents’ CPA, the year that I got a big raise and moved to a different state to live (NJ) and worked in yet another state (NY). The CPA charged a lot but I felt like he deal well with all the nuances of all my taxes that year. After I moved back to IN from NJ, I had H&R Block do it and it was less expensive, but still so much more than doing it myself. I felt like the woman I had do it there did a good job, though. If it were me now, I’d do the half and half thing with H&R Block where you can start it online and then have someone from H&R Block. It’s not as expensive and you still have someone check it. It seems to me they all use approximately the same software and I believe one of them has a guarantee about getting the most money back that you can or whatever. Good luck!

  34. Jessemy

    Oh man, I feel your pain. I’ve done taxes every which way: paper forms, TTax, H&R, and CPA.

    The best returns were always when I did it myself. Even with the CPA. H&R Block is like watching someone else do TTax, only slower than you can do it, and not asking the questions that would lead to proper tax breaks.

    We have a fairly complicated tax situation (health and college and retirement investments, charitable giving, household employee withholding), but despite the massive headache, I feel like I do the best job.

  35. catherine

    I think you might want to ask around for more local recommendations. I’m in a few facebook groups for my local area (parents groups, yard sale groups, and a random chat/news group) and people ask for recommendations all. the. time. You could ask “can anyone recommend someone to do my taxes?” Then a bunch of people make suggestions and a few names emerge as the local best ones. Or take the name you have and fish around: “Has anyone used Jane Accountant for tax prep? How was she?” Not to second-guess your friend but since she hasn’t actually used this person yet, I’d be a tiny bit wary.

  36. Mary

    I used to work for H&R Block. We had some really good people there, and some not so good people. If you decide to go there, ask for someone experienced when you make your appointment. They have a website, you can look at the people working in each office and choose someone. Pick a master tax advisor if you can, they are either enrolled agents or CPAs and will have the most experience.

    I now have a small tax practice with two partners, and everyone who comes to us here agrees it’s much better. You get to see the same person each year, we see clients in offices with doors that close, and we’re here year round if you have questions. At Block, they only keep one office in the area open year round.

    Nobody’s mentioned Enrolled Agents yet, but we take a test from the IRS to become licensed to do taxes. A CPA does all different kinds of accounting — an EA does just taxes. We can help with giving advice and planning for future years, too. Here’s a directory to search for an EA in your area. Most of us are used to working with people remotely, so not wanting to go into an office is certainly possible if you prefer. And if you do ever have a problem with the IRS, we can represent you so you don’t have to deal with it.

  37. CC Donna

    Listen to Mary. I use an enrolled agent who does taxes full time, takes continuing ed and makes it his living. H and R Block hires much of their staff seasonally. I man I know who has worked at Block for years now has dementia but he’s still working!

  38. Ruby

    I say go with the local accountant. I’d imagine H&R Block would be pretty hit-or-miss: you might get someone great, but you also might get a seasonal employee who has zero experience. If you don’t like the idea of going to an office in a scary location (which I totally understand!), then maybe ask around to see if any of your other friends can recommend someone. It’s always better to go with someone that other people can vouch for. Plus, you’ll be supporting a local business!

  39. Rosen

    I’d go with the accountant with the personal recommendation. I switched to a local accountant the year I got married, bought a house and I worked out of state and my husband worked in the state we lived in. I’m sure we could have figured all this stuff out on our own, but I just didn’t want to. Turns out the bank reported something about our interest on our new mortgage incorrectly to the IRS and a few months after our taxes were filed I got mail from the IRS telling us we did our taxes wrong and owed more money. I called up the accountant and they immediately said to fax over the letter and that they “would take care of it”. They then took care of everything and we got a letter from the IRS letting us know that everything was fine. It was such a huge relief that the first year something crazy came up with my taxes that I had decided to hire it out. Needless to say I continue to use the accountant and have had no more problems. It’s expensive but I love not worrying about doing the taxes anymore (I do still have to collect our paperwork and fill out a brief questionnaire, but the stress of doing it is gone). I have a hard time completely letting go of the feeling that “I have an engineering degree, my husband has a math and computer science degree!!! We should be able to do this ourselves!” But I try and let it go, b/c it’s so nice not to worry about it!

  40. Melody

    Thoughts from another CPA here!

    It is true that working with an accounting firm would be the more expensive route to go. However, if there is any complexity at all to your tax situation, it is possible that an expert tax preparer could save you money by ensuring that you are taking advantage of every possible deduction and/or credit. The cost for a CPA is likely to be at least a couple hundred dollars, but again, the cost will depend on the complexity of your situation.

    The advantage of a firm, as opposed to an individual preparer, is that your return will be prepared by one person (likely a lower level staff person) and then should be carefully reviewed by someone with considerable expertise.

    A good way to get CPA recommendations is to ask people with similar financial situations to yours. CPAs specialize, so it can be advantageous to find someone who knows the ins and outs of your type of finacial situation. This is particularly relevant for things like self-employment, people with rental properties, doctors, etc.

    My recommendation is that if you are going to outsource this because you are concerned you could be missing deductions, hire someone who does tax preparation as their full time profession. This is an area where experience and continuing education really make a big difference.

  41. Kelly

    I am a partner in a CPA firm and deal 95% with taxes. H & R block is normally a bad idea, we get many returns each year where they have done them completely wrong.
    You want someone you like and trust and who doesn’t act like you are a giant inconvenience when you call. Most of the work can be done over email these day though so only one trip is usually necessary. If you chose to go that route bring your prior years returns especially since you think there might be something to amend for. They should look those over and can tell you if they think it will be a benefit to amend. They will ask you questions about your last years stuff to get an idea of the current year situation and most of the time you leave it with them and they email/call with questions or to tell
    you it’s done. If you prefer email you can tell them that. Also know that the partner/manager in charge of your stuff probably won’t be the one doing he work, they’ll be reviewing it if the firm Has 5+ people or so. Enough to delegate duties and cross check each other, which is a good thing. Sometimes sole proprietorships who don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of can miss things just like anyone else. Having quality control helps mitigate that.
    They should be able to Tell you up front about what the fee should be and it’s probably going to sound like a lot, but it’s normally worth it. Anywhere from 300-500 is normal for a 1040 and a schedule a and some Child tax credit type stuff.
    The weirdest part of our job is that you are the client but we are charged with keeping you happy and asking you for a fee to do work for a governmental agency that we are being tasked with enforcing the rules of and telling you to pay money towards even though we may not agree at all with the underlying policy or way we have to go about it.
    I’d be happy to walk you though it further if you want to email me.

    1. Kelly

      Oh and another comment made me think of this. If you need other related services: financial planner lawyer, real estate services, bankers, insurance any kind of professional service – your CPA normally has a recommendation. We deal with all kinds of professionals and can tell when we have a good one either in working with them or as a client. None of them can send us commissions or anything and we have normally dealt with them previously and know that they do a good job.

  42. laura

    for YEARS I used H&R Block they do a decent job but they are expensive if you want the instant rebate which is where they make their money–my MIL is a CPA and now we do our taxes with her–I LOVE it because one of the services she has to offer, I believe all tax prep companies do, is they will be there for you if you get audited, which is SO comforting! She is small and local and very personal, she knows and loves her customers and really does care about every one of them.

  43. Jill

    Basically reiterating what everyone else said. We have used a CPA for probably 5-6 years now and she is great. Or at least, the process is. She has much of our info on file, so at the beginning of the year she sends us a big “tax organizer” and I just collect all the documents as they come in the mail and then sit down for about an hour and fill out all the new info. (we own a couple of rental properties, so that takes the bulk of my time)
    As far as going to a sketchy part of town, I think we met with her in her office one time when we first started using her. Since then I either drive everything to her house when I’m ready or drop it in the mail to her. Also she said there’s another way I could scan everything but we have so much paperwork that wouldn’t be worth it to me. After I drop everything off with her she might call me with a couple of questions and might not, and then a few weeks later we get a nice healthy refund into our bank account. I believe we pay her about $400.
    She has definitely found us a couple of extra deductions over the years. I’d say as you’re approaching college years for a bunch of your kids it’s a good time to get someone to handle it all for you and will know exactly what you can claim.

  44. a/k/a Nadine

    I’m a big believer in hiring professionals. I chose my tax person based on a friend’s recommendation, even though her office isn’t on my side of town. I remain confident with her work and am willing to endure the discomfort of visiting her office once a year.

  45. RA

    My husband RELISHES doing taxes, but the first year that we were married, we used H&R Block. That year, we both graduated from college, and we bought a house, moved states, and sold stock. Sooo, yes, too complicated for us, even though we had all the paperwork and such. We walked in, and we happened to get a guy who was higher up in the ranks. He basically rubbed his hands together in glee over our complicated stuff. So, that was a great experience, worth the money. I will also add that my dad used to be a seasonal H&R Block employee, and although he is not very warm and fuzzy, he would inspire confidence and “get it done”-ness.

    Until a couple of years ago, my husband did our taxes using TurboTax, but see above: he loves it. I don’t even know.

    Now, we work with a guy whom we affectionately call Tax Bob. He was a referral from a friend, and it has worked out swimmingly. He comes to our house to collect our documents (and pet our dog; that seems to be a priority for him!), then comes back for us to sign stuff. He has also recommended other financial products to us, not on commission, just based on our financial situation, and he has been reliable and not slimy about it.

    So even though my husband likes doing taxes, he has declared Tax Bob to be totally worth it, would do again, A+++. I think whatever helps you feel better about the tax situation is the right thing. Maybe try H&R Block this year and see how that goes?

  46. rbelle

    So I went from doing my own taxes via Turbo Tax (single, one job, renting), to H&R Block (married, up to four jobs between us, renting), to hiring a CPA (married, self-employed, homeowner, two to three jobs for husband). Our H&R Block experience wasn’t bad in that I never FELT we were working with someone incompetent. HOWEVER. Both those years, when we were married, had several jobs between us, and did not own a home or otherwise have many deductions, we owed more than $8000. Yes, that’s three zeroes. After the first astronomical tax bill, the preparer mentioned that we probably weren’t having enough deducted from our paychecks, and we should make sure we put 0 on all our W-4s . So we got that straightened out, and then when it happened again, I literally burst into tears in front of the tax guy, who, I will mention as an aside, apparently owned 14 cats. He was also good at quietly handing out tissues while pretending he didn’t notice the massive crying going on in front of him. Turns out that what the previous preparer had failed to mention was that for my husband’s two part-time jobs, even if you select 0, the assumption is that the job is your only job, and they deduct based only on the percentage of that income you would owe. Individually, income on those jobs was below the poverty line. We had essentially not paid any income taxes on two of my husband’s jobs.

    The next year, we bought a house, had a kid, and I got paid maternity leave from the state, plus I was quitting to become a freelancer, so when we got a “welcome to the neighborhood, here’s a coupon” postcard from a CPA, we hired her, and have used her now for six years. I like looking at her office wall and seeing that she has a master’s in tax law. I like that we don’t sit there while she works on the taxes. I like that she’s clearly a kooky introvert not all that interested in chit chat.

    But I will say that I don’t find it quite as easy breezy to gather everything up and drop it off with her as others have mentioned. Part of that is because between my husband always having multiple jobs and my self-employment, and the house, childcare, etc., there’s a lot of documents to keep track of. But on top of that, she sends a 20-page packet for us to fill out with all our information and despite it being seemingly straight forward, I don’t always understand it. Wait, is this the line where I put my auto registration? Or is it this OTHER line on this other page that mentions cars? Where does the mortgage interest deduction go? I think the packet makes it easier for her, but it’s more work for me, and I’m starting to wonder if this is not standard, because I feel like we are writing down information that she will also be writing down or entering somewhere. So I guess maybe find out from anyone you’re looking to hire what they expect of you, also. A checklist is one thing, but this is a multi-page form, and it does still take me 1 to 2 hours to prepare my tax info for my tax preparer.

    1. Lindsay

      My firm does that too. We refer to it as a “tax organizer.” It’s tricky – you can ask the client a million questions (i.e. Tax organizer) to make sure everything is done right, but some people don’t like that and you risk annoying them, then not asking questions that should be asked and missing deductions, as another commenter had an anecdote about.

  47. mtbakergirl

    Can you email only with the recommended CPA for the getting to know you piece? We use a CPA firm collect all our forms as recommended by the acct and mail everything over- so it seems like it could be done!

  48. Shawna

    My experience with accountants may be atypical, and I live in Canada, so our taxes are totally different, but I have had very complicated taxes and have found that doing them myself with TurboTax Home and Business is the way to go for me. I have to track an absolute ton of stuff (main job that I cross the provincial border for so I have to deal with tax forms for 2 provinces; part-time job that I have to track employment expenses for; small fine art photography business that I have to track, well, everything for; I also used to have an income property but we no longer have that so that one less spreadsheet for me, thank goodness!), and the one time I used an accountant he wanted all the info required already neatly entered into spreadsheets, which is 95% of the work. And after doing all this work myself, I sent it off to him and asked about another area that I thought I could deduct but he hadn’t asked for and he was all, oh yeah, that’s something you could deduct, I hadn’t considered that. The $500 extra I saved by asking him about it and then sending him all that info too was offset by the $400 he charged me, and all he really did was enter all the stuff I’d sent him into his own software. Forget that! The only reason I went to an accountant was so he could point out anything I missed myself, and he didn’t point out anything new, and in fact missed something himself!

    At this point I’m pretty knowledgeable about taxes and feel that I wouldn’t get my money’s worth to hire anyone else to do it. The pain in the ass is getting all the numbers together, and I wouldn’t be able to skip that even if I hired someone else to fill out my tax return for me. As a bonus, I started doing my mother and step-father’s taxes two years ago and saved them an extra almost $3000 on top of what they’d calculated for themselves that year alone.

  49. Alice

    I have nothing new to report… just (yet another) anecdote of doing a walk-in at H&R block and getting charged a fairly steep amount for having the person slooowwwlllyyyy type my information into the equivalent of TT. He asked some questions that I didn’t know the answer to, so he shrugged and said he’d just make up a number to put in there. WHAT.

    (I was 22, had just moved to VA, had W2s from three different jobs and 2 different states, and didn’t yet own a personal computer. This was back when you could tele-file, did you ever do that?? I’d get a workbook from the state of NJ to figure out my taxes, then you called a number and punched in everything using the dial pad on your landline phone, ha. But I couldn’t figure it out with the multiple jobs in multiple states situation, so went to H&R block out of desperation. Did not enjoy. Used TT for many years afterwards and thought that was much better; now use my FIL who is an accountant and that is much MUCH better.)

  50. Jen

    Okay so I am late to this conversation (I am a CPA and it’s busy season) but I want to encourage you to use the local CPA. H&R isn’t bad and I know people who work there part time. But I found they charge an insanely high price to do relatively simple taxes. It seems like extortion to me (but ah I do realize I am not a good baseline).

    And yes file an amended tax return to get that money back!

    But actually all this makes me want to do is start my own shop because I’d charge half of what h&r does.

  51. Maureen

    So, I’m super lazy and I’m not going to read through the comments, but…we found our tax guy in kind of a fun way. This was a long time ago- H&R declined to send our completed tax returns electronically, back when you had to go through someone like them to get a quick return and direct deposit. They were super rude, and we went to Jackson Hewitt and got a guy named Tom. He was so nice and thorough-but it turned out he was a CPA setting up their systems. When we went back the next year and asked for him, he was with someone else-and they kindly shared where he was working. After that, he went to work for himself, and we have been with him ever since. We used to do our own taxes, but we bought some land, our duplex, and it became kind of complicated, and honestly-it feels so good to have an ongoing relationship with someone you know and trust. Good luck!

  52. Allison

    I love my CPA. I have been using him for myself and my business for 15 years now. A friend recommended him to me (maybe ask someone you think is good with money for her opinion?), we met and he seemed fine to me and over the years has grown to become one of my best advisors in everything from money to single parenting. Oddly, the more I get to know him, he’s not the type of person that I would necessarily choose as a friend. We are very different in some of our views of the world. He’s about 10 years older than me, which makes me think of him kind of in a fatherly brotherly way. He’s very formal in how we converse, and I’ve never gotten the impression that he views me differently because I’m young and or a woman.
    Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions on your first meeting. I asked everyone I work with how long they plan on continuing working. I always want to know if someone’s going to retire in the next 5 to 10 years (bc I started my business when I was in my 20s and knew I had a long way to go), and I found people to be pretty darn honest about it. If they’re going to retire in the next few years, they tell you and say they would pass you along to a “trusted member of their company.”
    Anyway, a CPA can be very helpful long term in knowing your finances when it come to kids education or your retirement goals. I would recommend you choose a CPA rather than mini mall type tax service.

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