The dreaded yearly filing of the taxes. It is a guarantee must-do and this year the deadline falls on April 17. Somehow, my husband and I – because I’m not taking all the blame here – always put it off until the last minute. We’ve had years where we’ve hired someone to help file and other times one of us is ahead of the game just enough to do ourselves the week before they’re due.

I’m no tax pro myself but I’ve learned a few things along the way, including how to quickly tell if your year has been straightforward enough for you to file yourself, and when it might be time to call in the professionals.

Keep in mind that there are three main ways to file your taxes:

  1. Fill out the paperwork by hand (or e-file an electronic return)
  2. Purchase or use a commercial software program on your computer or online that will guide you through the filing process
  3. Hire someone – a CPA or other licensed tax professional

When It’s Best To File Yourself:

The simpler your year was in terms of finances, the more likely you’ll be able to file on your own, say experts.

“If income from your employer is pretty much the extent of your financial world, you take the standard deduction and haven’t had any big life changes, you might be able to use the super-short Form 1040EZ,” says the team at NerdWallet. “You may not need tax software.”

If filing by hand seems like a nuisance, you may also be able to use a software program and file online for free if your return is simple.

The basic or advanced software can run you $20 to $100 or more, depending on what you have going on. This is still a great option if your set on filing yourself but its a little more complicated than it is basic. You may want to consider a program to help if you’re filing in more than one state.

When You Should Really Consider Hiring Someone:

There are a few good reasons to hire a tax professional to file your taxes. Most of these reasons are related to big life changes. Here are some examples when you could call in reinforcements.

  • Something is going on with the spousal situation: If you’ve gotten married, divorced or lost a spouse during the past tax year, you might consider hiring someone.
  • You’ve adopted: First of all, congrats! Second of all, there is a Federal Adoption Tax Credit you’re going to want to take advantage of and potentially some other details that a professional will be able to address with you.
  • You’ve started a small business: Owning your own business can add some complexity to your tax filing – and you’ll want to be sure you’ve done it right. “Many small business owners don’t consult a tax accountant until a few years into starting their business,” says U.S. News. “However, your first-year tax elections can impact your business’s tax filings in future years, so it pays to start things on the right foot and grow from there, even if you’re a sole proprietor.”
  • You would seriously rather get a root canal than do your taxes: If it’s really that arduous for you or you simply do not have the time, time to make a call for some help before the April 17 deadline.

Remember One Thing

There is one very good reason to take some time to decide if you should file your own taxes or not this year: No matter who ends up filing your tax return, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will consider you responsible if something isn’t right. No one else is liable besides you.

If it’s been a crazy year and the idea of figuring things out is overwhelming for the whole family, cut yourself some slack and find the right person to help. The IRS has some suggestions on who to look for. They say that all paid tax return preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and that you should never sign a blank return. And don’t forget to ask about their service fees in advance. 

If all else fails, consider e-filing an extension for more time!


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