Should I Do My Own Taxes or Hire an Accountant? Use a Chart to Decide.

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  • Doing your own taxes takes time and patience.
  • If you don’t have either, it might be worth hiring a tax professional — but know it will be more expensive.
  • Also consider a tax pro if you have multiple sources of income or significant assets.
  • See Personal Finance Insider’s picks for the best tax software »

Since most people’s financial situations change every year, whether to do your own taxes or hire an accountant is a question worth asking annually.

The flowchart below can help you make a quick decision, but keep reading for more detailed guidelines.

Should you prepare your own taxes 2020

Alyssa Powell/Business Insider



There are 2 ways to prepare and file your taxes

Americans have two basic options when it comes to filing their taxes:

1. Do it yourself with tax software or through the IRS website. The IRS does not charge to file taxes. If you’re well-versed in tax law (most people aren’t) you can print out and mail in your paperwork or request the paper forms in the mail. However, the IRS encourages online filing and directs taxpayers with incomes up to $73,000 to its free filing portal, which lists eight qualified tax preparers that offer free services (there might be an additional charge for state filing).

For people with incomes exceeding $73,000, you can still find free filing options if you have straightforward income. A more complex situation — like self-employment or complicated investments — means you’ll probably have to pay an online tax preparer, which can range from about $25 to $100 or more for federal and state filing.

2. Hire a tax preparer to do it for you. The only professionals qualified to help you are tax lawyers, CPAs, and enrolled IRS agents. You can search for appropriately credentialed preparers at taxprepareregistry.com.

Preparers generally start at around $100 and vary depending on where you live and how complex your taxes are, and accountants might very well charge at least twice that, with similar variations in price according to location and complexity. According to the National Association of Tax Professionals, the average charge for preparing and filing a tax return is a little more than $200.


Best comprehensive tax software

TurboTax

Insider’s Rating

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

4.2/5

Icon of check mark inside a promo stamp It indicates a confirmed selection.

Perks

Tell TurboTax about your life and it will guide you step by step. Jumpstart your taxes with last year’s info.


Fees

Varies by filing option

Pros

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Good for those with a complex tax situation that may need help navigating deductions and forms
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Offers step-by-step guidance
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Ability to upgrade for instant access to an expert
Cons

  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an ‘X’. Not all users will qualify for a $0 filing option


Product Details

  • Tell TurboTax about your life and it will guide you step by step. Jumpstart your taxes with last year’s info.
  • Snap a photo of your W-2 or 1099-NEC and TurboTax will put your info in the right places.
  • CompleteCheck™ scans your return so you can be confident it’s 100% accurate.
  • You won’t pay for TurboTax until it’s time to file and you’re fully satisfied.
  • TurboTax is committed to getting you your maximum refund, guaranteed.

So, should you prepare taxes yourself or hire someone to help? For most people, it’s not just about the price. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with.

Do your own taxes if …

You have the time and patience to deal with it. Taxes probably aren’t the kind of thing you should do with Netflix on in the background. Expect to set aside some time to give it your undivided attention — the IRS estimates the average person spends up to seven hours gathering forms and preparing their tax return. If you’re a business owner, expect to spend about 20 hours on your taxes.

You have a straightforward tax situation with no dependents, no investments other than retirement accounts, and no significant assets or charitable contributions. Those basic, free versions of tax-preparation software mentioned above were created for people like you, who have few deductions or other financial factors to take into consideration.

You own a business or are self-employed and feel comfortable navigating business-related tax forms. Business income adds another layer to preparing and filing a tax return. If you have experience with business-related tax forms or you want to save some money on an accountant, you’re sure to find tax software that meets your specific needs.

You feel comfortable hitting submit and want that control over your money. Taxes are a big deal. If you feel comfortable navigating the software, looking up questions on the IRS website, and the idea of having to fix any errors doesn’t terrify you, then you’ll probably feel more comfortable doing your own taxes.

Hire a professional if …

You don’t have the time and patience to deal with it. If you feel that the significant time you’d need to devote to doing your taxes would be better spent elsewhere, you might want to outsource. It’s probably more prudent than rushing through your filing and making a mistake.

You have a complicated tax situation with dependents, investments, or significant assets or charitable contributions, or you own a business. Nearly every financial transaction comes with some kind of tax consequence, and the more transactions you have, the more things you need to take into consideration. People who own businesses, freelance, or are self-employed in particular might want the help of a professional to iron out their atypical tax situations — deductions for home offices, business meals and travel, and vehicles are also audit red flags.

You’re planning to itemize your deductions. If you have major medical costs, a mortgage, or make large charitable donations (among other factors) you might save more money itemizing your deductions than taking the standard deduction. But itemizing can be tricky to navigate on your own, especially if it’s your first time.

You’ve had a major life change in the last year. Did you get married? Buy a house? Have a baby? These all impact your tax filing, and, at least the first time you document them on your taxes, you might want someone to show you how best to do it.

You don’t trust yourself to cover all your bases. If the idea of entering numbers and talking about dependents and deductions makes you break out in a cold sweat, you might want to leave the preparation to a professional.


Best comprehensive tax software

TurboTax

TurboTax TurboTax

Insider’s Rating

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

A five pointed star

4.2/5

Icon of check mark inside a promo stamp It indicates a confirmed selection.

Perks

Tell TurboTax about your life and it will guide you step by step. Jumpstart your taxes with last year’s info.


Fees

Varies by filing option

Pros

  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Good for those with a complex tax situation that may need help navigating deductions and forms
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Offers step-by-step guidance
  • Check mark icon A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction. Ability to upgrade for instant access to an expert
Cons

  • con icon Two crossed lines that form an ‘X’. Not all users will qualify for a $0 filing option


Product Details

  • Tell TurboTax about your life and it will guide you step by step. Jumpstart your taxes with last year’s info.
  • Snap a photo of your W-2 or 1099-NEC and TurboTax will put your info in the right places.
  • CompleteCheck™ scans your return so you can be confident it’s 100% accurate.
  • You won’t pay for TurboTax until it’s time to file and you’re fully satisfied.
  • TurboTax is committed to getting you your maximum refund, guaranteed.

Use our tax calculator to estimate how much of a tax refund you’ll get, or how much you’ll owe the IRS

We estimate that you will owe
$0

Estimated federal taxes$0