Unnecessary Assistance
mediaphotos/istockphoto

Why You Might Not Need a Tax Pro

View Slideshow
Unnecessary Assistance
mediaphotos/istockphoto

Unnecessary Assistance

Tax Day is on the horizon — and so is all the stress, worry, and anxiety that comes with it. You might be tempted to outsource some of that stress by hiring a tax attorney or accountant to do the heavy lifting for you, and for some people, the service is certainly worth the expense. Many Americans, however, would be better served by keeping their cash and doing their taxes themselves. Here are a few reasons why. (And here are 17 Tax Law Changes You Need to Know Before Filing a Return in 2020.)

It's Expensive
AndreyPopov/istockphoto

It's Expensive

The services of traditional tax professionals are not cheap, and paying for them can quickly eat into any refunds you expect to receive. According to Thervo, which connects tax pros with taxpayers, the average cost for tax preparation is $225 per return. Hiring a tax accountant to file your return costs between $99-$450 per return.

The United Way Might Help for Free
FG Trade/istockphoto

The United Way Might Help for Free

Many people might not have to pay for professional tax help even if they need the service. Sean Coffey, director of communications and outreach at the California Policy Lab, recommends visiting www.myfreetaxes.org by the United Way to check if you're eligible for their no-cost services.

"Even better, these programs can help you see if you'll qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, and a state-level EITC, if your state has one," he said.

You Might Qualify for the VITA Program
FG Trade/istockphoto

You Might Qualify for the VITA Program

If you don't qualify for the United Way's program, you might be eligible for free tax preparation help through the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. It's open to most filers who earn $56,000 or less, who speak limited English, or who have disabilities.

AARP Helps Anyone for Free
ebstock/istockphoto

AARP Helps Anyone for Free

AARP runs Tax-Aide, a massive volunteer program that claims to be the largest volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service in the country. Although the program pays special attention to low-income and older Americans, the free service is open to everyone and is available all year round.

You'll Probably Take the Standardized Deduction
Darren415/istockphoto

You'll Probably Take the Standardized Deduction

One of the main reasons people have long sought professional tax assistance is to get the most out of individual deductions. Today's large standardized deductions, however, mean that most people will choose that option, which is likely more lucrative and certainly simpler.

"With the increased standard deduction, most tax filers who are regular W-2 wage earners will end up taking the standard deduction, which is $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married filers," said Florida tax attorney Bishop L. Toups of Daily & Toups law firm. "If you're just taking the standard deduction, then it does not make much sense to pay a tax preparer to prepare your taxes."

Price-Drop Returns
lechatnoir/istockphoto

Free (and Cheap) Software Makes It Easy for Most

There was a time when filing a tax return was a burdensome process that required math skills, a calculator, and lots of paperwork. Today, however, online services make it easy.

"I would recommend that, for most people with a basic tax return (only W-2 income), they can save money without losing any tax benefit by using an online filing service rather than an accountant," said Jonathan Weber, the founder of Marathon Studios, which maintains a large network of tax and finance websites. "These types of tax returns are incredibly simple, and there are very few choices that need to be made by the taxpayer."

There Are Lots of Options
Kritchanut/istockphoto

There Are Lots of Options

When it comes to free and cheap tax software like the kind Weber describes, there is no shortage of options. Among the most highly rated by ConsumersAdvocate.org are TaxSlayer, TurboTax, TaxAct, eFile, CreditKarma, and FreeTaxUSA.

Hybrid Options Are Available
skynesher/istockphoto

Hybrid Options Are Available

If you're not comfortable doing it at home with self-directed software, but you don't want to pay for full professional services, there are low-cost hybrid options that let you do most of the work yourself while leaning on a remote tax pro when you need to. Among the most popular is Tax Pro Go by H&R Block.

You Can Handle Most IRS-Related Business With a Phone Call
Wavebreakmedia/istockphoto

You Can Handle Most IRS-Related Business With a Phone Call

Many tax professionals offer services that even the least experienced novices simply don't need. Among them are finding out how much you owe the IRS, direct-depositing your refund, negotiating to settle your tax debt, setting up a payment plan, and getting copies of your tax records. You can do all these things and more with a simple call to the IRS.

Accountants Are Known to Upsell
skynesher/istockphoto

Accountants Are Known to Upsell

Tax professionals make money by the direct services they provide, but many also earn some gravy by selling supplementary services that rarely offer any value and can cost you much more. Among the most common are expensive tax return anticipation loans and audit insurance, which should be included in your contract with a tax preparer anyway. Some may even offer to open a retirement account for you to deposit your refund into — they, of course, get a brokerage commission for their trouble.

In the End, It's on You Anyway
Natalia Bratslavsky/istockphoto

In the End, It's on You Anyway

If you pay a professional accountant, tax attorney, or other professional to do your taxes, the return they file is still your responsibility and your responsibility alone. If they make a mistake, if you're audited, or if something is filed incorrectly, the IRS holds you responsible — and in most cases, your tax pro won't give you a refund.