How do I know if I should file taxes online or get help from a tax preparer?

Our tax code is complicated, but only a small portion of that tax code applies to most of us. In this article, we will help you understand when you can file taxes yourself online and when you need to get help from a professional.

Usually, filing online is less expensive than paying a tax preparer to help. We don’t have to know everything about taxes to do our own taxes. We have to know enough. But how do you know that you know enough?

Here are seven questions to ask each year to assess yourself and your tax situation:

  1. Do you view your tax situation as easy or at least something you can handle? For most of us, if our only income is shown on one W-2, that is easy. For some, having rental property makes taxes difficult, but others view that as easy.
  2. Do you have the patience to sit down and do this on your own?
  3. Are you comfortable using computers and the internet?
  4. When you are asked questions about your financial matters, like the questions tax software will ask you, are you easily confused?
  5. Do you have time to sit down and do your taxes on your own?
  6. If you have to research or learn something, are you comfortable doing that?
  7. Have you had a life change that may impact your taxes? Are you confident you can navigate how to determine that potential impact on your taxes?

What if I’m not sure?

If you aren’t sure whether or not you can handle filing taxes on your own, ask yourself these questions: Do I have the time to give it a try? Will a struggle with tax filing cause me too much stress?

If you can commit the time, and you don’t think trying will cause you undue stress, then give it a try.

If you get into the tax preparation and decide it isn’t for you, you can stop and go to a tax professional, but there are often other options in that scenario.

Many online tax filing programs offer the options to get some tax consultation and a tax return review at a low cost. Others offer to finish your tax return for you, again at a low cost.

One great thing about trying is that if it doesn’t work out, you know for future tax returns.

What are some red flags that I shouldn’t do the taxes myself?

  1. If the whole thing feels overwhelming.
  2. If you get frustrated easily, particularly with technology.
  3. If you can’t figure out what tax documents you should have.
  4. If you get asked questions in the tax software that you can’t make sense of after a little bit of research.
  5. If you aren’t sure where to look for answers to your tax questions.
  6. If the results you are getting with online software don’t make sense.

You have to be the one to decide whether to do your taxes using online software or by engaging a tax professional. This is an area where “know thyself” is good advice.

Before paying for tax software, consider whether free options will work for you, like IRS Free File. And before hiring a tax professional consider whether or not Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is a good option for you. If you shop around for a tax preparer, the IRS has advice here.

Happy tax filing!

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