Should I do my own taxes or hire a pro?

 During the pandemic, we all became do-it-yourselfers of everything from home renovations to portfolio management. We even learned to bake our own bread and cut hair.
But is doing your own taxes a good idea? Like almost anything related to taxes, it’s complicated. It depends on how messy your finances are, how much you hate doing taxes, or if you’ve had a recent life change.
Typically, DIY taxpayers are young, just starting adulthood and owners of few assets. An IRS study showed 53% of all taxpayers in 2021 used a paid tax professional, but Generation Z was significantly less likely than any other age group. Thirty-three percent of people ages 18-24 used a tax professional compared with more than 50% in every other age group.
Meanwhile, middle-income earners between $75,000 and $90,000 were the most likely (59%) to turn to a tax pro, the IRS said.
There are pros and cons to going it alone or enlisting help. We’ll unpack them here to help you make an informed decision. After all, a wrong decision could cost you money or, worse, invite an audit.
When’s a good time to DIY?
If you have a limited number of income sources, say a W-2, bank accounts and some 1099s, and you plan to take the standard deduction, doing your own taxes may be the way to go. You can save yourself money and should be able to complete your tax return fairly quickly using basic tax software or the free forms found on the IRS website.
If your taxable income falls beneath certain thresholds, you have a disability or speak limited English, or are elderly, you may qualify for one of the IRS’ free filing programs. You can check the IRS website to see if you qualify.
The standard deduction this year is $12,950 for single filers and married couples filing separately; $19,400 for head-of-household filers; and $25,900 for married couples filing jointly.
If your deductions exceed those amounts, you should probably itemize them to reduce your taxes.
Usually, the move to itemized deductions comes after a major life change, said Mark Steber, chief tax information officer at tax preparer Jackson Hewitt.
For example, “if you bought a home, you had one of the premier life changes that will fundamentally change your taxes,” Steber said.
Itemizing deductions takes more time and requires more paperwork but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a professional. If your list of deductions is straightforward and you’re organized, it’s doable for the average taxpayer.
However, if you’re uncomfortable with this process, consider calling in a pro, accountants say.
When should I hire a tax pro?
Anytime your taxes are complicated.
Hiring a pro is a prudent choice after a major life change like getting married or divorced, having a baby, buying or selling a home or business, experiencing a major health issue or retiring. Paying a tax professional is also wise if you now receive income from many different sources, have investment losses you need help dealing, received an inheritance, or settled an estate.
Any one of these can lead to more deductions or credits for you, tax preparers say.
And because tax laws change all the time and amount to more than 2,652 pages (or well more than 1 million words compared with the King James Bible’s 788,280 words or War and Peace’s 560,000 words, according to independent tax policy nonprofit Tax Foundation), knowing all those laws can make anyone’s head spin.
Tax accountants, tax lawyers and tax preparers are paid to know these laws and help you navigate them to minimize your taxes.
If I decide to hire a tax pro, how do I choose one?
Choosing the right tax professional is vital. They know your most personal financial details and you need to trust that they’ll accurately file your income tax return. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your tax return, regardless of who prepares it.
The IRS offers some tips to find a reputable pro:
Check the preparer’s qualifications. The searchable and sortable IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications helps taxpayers find a tax return preparer with specific qualifications.
Check the preparer’s history. Taxpayers can ask the local Better Business Bureau about the preparer, including disciplinary actions and license status. Other organizations to check for specific types of preparers include the State Board of Accountancy for any certified public accountant, the State Bar Association for tax attorneys and the IRS’ enrolled agent status page.
Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of the refund or who boast bigger refunds than their competition.
Ask to e-file. To avoid pandemic-related paper delays, taxpayers should ask their preparer to file electronically and choose direct deposit.
Make sure the preparer is available to you, even after the tax deadline.
Provide records and receipts. Good preparers will ask to see a taxpayer’s records and receipts and ask questions to figure out things like the total income, tax deductions and credits.
Never sign a blank return. Tax preparers should never ask you to sign a blank tax form.
Review before signing. Ask questions if something isn’t clear. You should feel comfortable with the accuracy of your return before signing it.
Review refund details. Confirm the routing and bank account number on the completed return for a direct deposit or details related to a refund if it’s in another form.
Ensure the preparer signs the return and includes their Preparer Tax Identification Number. The filed returns are required by law to be signed by preparers and have their ID number. The taxpayer’s copy of the return is not required to have the ID number on it.

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