Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Thursday, February 25, 2016
Preparing taxes can be a daunting task, especially if you have new scenarios to consider for last year (first kids, first houses, new jobs, etc.), or if you’re the type of person who has a whole heck of a lot of stuff you need to write off in different categories. Of course no one likes the idea of leaving money with the government, so it’s well worth taking a bit of time to research what the best way is for you to do your taxes that will garner you the most money back.
The following are three ideas to consider before hitting that ‘file’ button on last year’s taxes.
1. Compare online software programs
Maybe you’ve always been an H&R Block user, or perhaps TurboTax has never steered you wrong — but when was the last time you tried both on for the size with the same return? It might seem like a waste of time, but as one of our contributors found, sometimes the simple act of completing your taxes twice with two different programs can help point out any inaccuracies you may have accidentally input that kept you from getting your full tax refund potential. It’s also a good idea to check in with what the different programs offer in terms of filing costs, since these prices can change and vary. For example, that same contributor found that while H&R Block charged for use of the Earned Income credit with her particular tax example, basic TurboTax provided the same refund for free.
2. Know your options
If you fall into certain criteria (you’re a low to middle-income earning family, for example, or a member of the military), there are probably more affordable tax options out there for you. For example, the Free File Alliance coalition of tax software companies provides affordable tax prep to the above examples. Check the IRS Website to find out if your situation qualifies you for a free return. If you’re a senior, check out this piece about easy ways to get access to free tax filing.
3. Take complexity into consideration
Whether you’re a veteran at filing taxes as a freelance or contract worker or this will be your first year, the fact still remains that doing taxes when no taxes are taken out of your pay throughout the year is always more cumbersome than those who file a simple return using a W-2. With your stack of 1099s and your Excel spreadsheet of work-related expense write-offs … now what? Is it worth spending hours figuring out the online programs yourself, or should you just bite the bullet and get yourself an accountant? The answer will be different for everyone, and it all comes down to how much time you’re willing to commit to the process, and how much you enjoy it. If you’re the type of person who dreads numbers and tax forms, then it may be worth the extra money for you to hire someone to help you out, and in the end you may even end up breaking even if your tax preparer can help show you some write-offs you might not have known about on your own. If, however, you are interested in going it alone, check out this piece for seven of the best online tax software options for self-employed people.