The Main Reasons To Do And Not To Do Your Own Taxes

Happy giraffes grazing in the fieldIgnorance is bliss.

When you don’t know your boss is getting a huge bonus for saving the firm money by screwing your bonus, you’re happy. When you don’t know the reason why you didn’t get into the fellowship program is because the managing director is a woman who hates men with different political ideals, you’re happy. When you have no clue your boyfriend is hooking up with your best friend, you’re happy to carry on!

I’m generally a very happy go lucky type of guy. My facial expression seems to have “smile” as a a default setting. But there is one time a year where I get angry and randomly shout obscenities while no one is looking. The one time of year is during tax season.

As a proud financial masochist, I decided to redo my taxes a second time online just to make sure I didn’t make any errors. I’ve got a five figure tax bill for the first time in my life thanks to AMT, some one off incomes, and retroactive tax law changes in the state of California which I may write about more in the future.

Lo and behold I found a five figure error where I inadvertently inputted my property tax bill instead of my mortgage interest for one of my rental properties. My error makes me wonder what else I’ve done wrong. Despite my mistake, I’m a big proponent of everyone doing their own taxes. This post will highlight four reasons why, as well as five reasons why you’re silly.

THE MAIN REASONS TO DO YOUR OWN TAXES

1) Flexibility. Doing your own taxes gives you the flexibility of going at your own pace. Although it takes me on average 2.5 hours to do all my taxes in one sitting, I like to draw out the process over a one month time period because tax documents are always late and I expect last minute tax law changes. Not needing to meet with an accountant is a nice benefit. So is only paying $50-75 for tax software vs. $500-$1,000 for a professional

2) Optimization. The greatest benefit about doing your own taxes with online software is that you can play with the numbers to see where you can optimize your tax liabilities for next year. For example, I’ve made steps to eradicate expensive W2 income and increase dividend and passive income sources to minimize tax liability.

3) Cheat. It’s hard to cheat on your taxes if you get someone to do your taxes because they have their reputation on the line when submitting your returns. You can find an aggressive accountant, however, who knows your own risk tolerance better than you? Just be prepared to get the smackdown if you live too dangerously. However, as you’ll see below, if you cheat on your taxes you could win one of the most powerful jobs in the land!

4) Knowledge. If you love to learn, you’ll love doing your own taxes. After doing my own taxes for close to ten years, I’ve got a solid understanding about maximum mortgage interest tax deductions, income phaseouts, expense strategies for small businesses, and average donation amounts per income that won’t draw red flags.

To make remembering the benefits easier, just remember the acronym FOCK. If you can FOCK to reduce your tax liability, that’s what it’s all about. Tim Geitner FOCKed the government out of $32,000 with TurbTax by claiming ignorance. He eventually got caught and still was appointed the US Treasury Secretary!

Nearly 312,000 federal workers and retirees are FOCKing the government by owing more than $3.5 billion in back taxes as of Sept. 30, 2011, according to the IRS. The year before, about 279,000 workers and retirees owed $3.4 billion. The Department of Housing and Urban Development had the highest delinquency rate, at 4.4 percent. Such incest, FOKing each other.

Given how rampant delinquency is in our own government, it behooves everyone to do their own taxes right? Wrong. Let me share with you the reasons why you don’t want to do your own taxes.

THE MAIN REASONS NOT TO DO YOUR OWN TAXES

1) You cherish happiness. The number one reason why you do not want to do your own taxes is because you enjoy being happy. You will get so pissed off at doing your own taxes, you might end up seriously hurting the economy by becoming a traitor. You learn about all the infuriating tax policies which discriminate among different types of people. You will learn about why you can’t deduce your student loan interest or receive a child tax credit. You will witness retroactive taxes that rape you for thousands of dollars because a certain set of voters who don’t make as much as you voted to raise your taxes for their benefit. You will start despising the government for their chicanery. You will feel helpless because if you don’t give the government your money, you will pay fines or go to jail. Doing your taxes makes you aware of how much of slave we all are to the government.

2) You’re going to make mistakes. With the tax code tens of thousands of pages long, you will undoubtedly make a mistake or three. When you make a mistake large enough, the IRS will hunt you down. Even though every experience I’ve had with the IRS has been pleasant, it’s still a disconcerting feeling getting an IRS inquiry letter in the mail. They love to fish for more income in a heads they win, tails you lose situation.

3) You want a long lasting career. I planned on working for 18 years until I was 40, but decided to pull the rip chord after 13 years partially because I was so sick of paying way more than my fair share. I knew I would never be able to defeat the government’s discriminatory ways so I decide to join the movement by going John Galt. My blind quest to pay less than $100,000 a year in income taxes has short-circuited my career. If I worked just five more years, I would have that much more money. But then again, it’s not all about the money. It’s about happiness.

4) You love your country. If you become angry, lose your happiness, and ruin your career, you become less of a patriot. When you become unpatriotic you start protesting everything. Once you start protesting everything, it’s very possible you end up denouncing your citizenship because you realize resistance is futile. You leaving means one less taxpaying citizen and one less person to help replace our aging population. Once our demographics go, so too does the wealth of our nation.

5) You don’t want to be alone. Nobody wants to be with an unhappy, angry, jobless, deserter. As a result, you will likely end up spending many years alone. I’m not sure if anything is much worse than loneliness. This is why prisons punish nonconformist inmates through solitary confinement. I’d much rather spend my days with someone I love and be poor than be rich and all alone.

FOCK OR BE FOCKED

There is no way out when it comes to paying taxes. The best thing you can do for your finances is weigh the pros and cons to decide which way makes you the least unhappy. The folks who tell you they are happy to pay taxes don’t pay much at all. Don’t listen to them. You are a fighter who plans to build great wealth through knowledge. Just be careful what you wish for.

Recommendation: I’ve been using H&R Block’s Premium Tax Software to do my own taxes for the past 11 years. It’s inexpensive and very easy to use for novice to advanced tax filers. The software always updates with the latest tax rules so you’re never behind. They also have audit protection service as well.

Photo: Happy giraffes about to…. eat. 12/8/2014. FS.

Regards,

Sam

 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    I do my own taxes with TurboTax for two reasons:

    1) I’m cheap and it’s cheaper than paying an accountant.
    2) I like learning more about taxes so that I can do a better job at tax planning.

    I do get a little angry over the complexity of the tax code. I mean it’s nuts when you really think about it!

    “Readers, what are some other reasons why people should not do their own taxes? Isn’t FOCKing better than nothing?”

    I have some friends that seem really afraid to do their own taxes because they might make a mistake and the IRS will come “and get them.” Therefore, fear is a good reason no to do your own taxes.

    • says

      Fear of the IRS is a totally legitimate reason, especially given all the movies that portray evil agents knocking on people’s doors, and the stories we hear in the news.

      The thing is, most IRS folks are really, really helpful and nice. They understand our system is focked.

  2. says

    I prefer to do my own taxes for 2 reasons, although it’s with TurboTax. One, I can’t really justify using a H&R Block type system because they’re essentially doing the same thing as much, just inputting numbers into a computer program. Two, I already have a firm grasp on our finances, and doing them myself let’s me see where I can try and make changes the next year.

    Our taxes are very simple though with no kids, no potential mortgage interest deduction and no side business so it’s hard to really look for other deductions to make itemizing the right way to go.

    I hate having to pay my taxes though because we really are just slaves to the government and it seems that every year they just want more. It’s the whole “if you give a mouse a cookie” story all over again, except you’re facing massive penalties and possible prison time if you don’t keep giving in. The tax code is way over complicated thanks to special interests lobbying for their own perks.

    The biggest reason I hate doing my taxes is because I see all the ways the tax code screws us over.

    • says

      Indeed. It’s sometimes better to walk in a fog of ignorance.

      Just like if everybody became an entrepreneur by starting their own business, they’d never vote for tax increases again.

  3. says

    I think it is wise decision to let your accountant do all the taxes works for you. Accountant know more about taxation law and other legal issue. If you have business, accountant is very useful. You cannot build your wealth alone. Very rich people use other people talent to protect and secure their money.

  4. says

    I’m about ready to outsource my taxes to an accountant. I’m worried that now that I have a high income, growing investment income, and possible blogging income, things are going to get too complex and annoying.

    I need to get a price estimate on an accountant compared to TurboTax. That will probably tell me whether I should stick to doing my own or outsource it.

  5. says

    I almost always do my own taxes, but for next year, I plan on hiring someone. I just have too many side hustles going on, along with my main job, so I’d rather someone else have to deal with that hassle next year!

  6. says

    I hate doing my FOCKING taxes. But I do my own taxes any way, mostly because I am cheap (er, frugal). I think I do a pretty good job with them! BTW, It is ok to LOVE your country and HATE your government. That’s what the bill of rights is all about :)

    • says

      I’m frugal too. I’d rather figure it out on my own than spend $500+ for someone to do mine.

      Besides, doing my own taxes gives me a wealth of content to write posts to help others!

  7. says

    I have been stuck with paying an accountant for the last 5 years because the account diplomatically divides my sons’ tuition tax credits between myself and my ex-husband. I am waiting patiently until they are finally done with school and I can stop paying the accountant and start saving that money.

  8. Catie says

    I have done my own taxes since I started working at the age of 14 in the 70s. My dad taught me. I will probably always do my own taxes… even with all of the K1s my broker had me into last year… I hate those things. But I enjoy the challenge of it. I enjoy it enough that I had a part-time job for awhile with H&R Block (which I really liked doing) and for the last 5 years I have volunteered with AARP as a Tax Aide volunteer. I get free training each year sponsored by the IRS. I really like saving folks money and it is a challenge to see if you can get them to invest/save instead of going for the big refund.

    I believe anyone who is paying someone else to do their taxes should know the fundamentals. I really don’t like leaving something that important to someone else. Good luck to anyone who does.

    • says

      That’s awesome! Your attitude is exactly why folks should do their own. Knowledge and the love of learning is great. You are clearly an expert at doing your taxes now too, so I can understand why leaving it to someone else doesn’t feel right.

      Do your taxes when you’re young, so you can make the mistakes and learn on small income. When you’re old, you can really start optimizing!

  9. says

    For the first time we went to an actual CPA to do our taxes this year. I would just rather pay someone to get them done. Taxes were easy to do on my own when I just had a 9-5 job, it’s “funny” how they get more complex when you want to start building wealth through real estate or investments. Additionally as you mentioned my blood starts boiling when I see how much the “gubment” is taking from me because I’m deemed “rich.” Last time I checked daycare in my area for 2 kids full time is $700/week. My salary may seem big but my expenses are huge as well!

    • says

      Hope it works out for you Marvin. How much does the CPA charge?

      H&R Block has the Deluxe package which includes rental properties and small businesses. It’s a pretty simple walk through.

      $700 a week sounds like a lot… time to quit your job and stay at home like a good man should!

  10. says

    I agree with Catie. I think that even those who let someone else do their taxes do so at their own peril if they know nothing about the tax code. How will you know if you have a decent accountant? And, from what I’ve read, if the accountant makes a mistake it’s still you that’s in trouble and will have to pay fines / fees. No?

  11. Matt says

    1) I wasn’t sure where the pair of giraffes was going, given the tone of the article. OK, they’re just happy. They pay no income taxes. Whew!

    2) I do my own taxes. I use H&R Block software, because Intuit at one time used TurboTax to experiment with very invasive licensing software. (basically, spyware you agreed to because you didn’t read the agreement before clicking OK, that stayed behind after you uninstalled the program) They stopped that, but I don’t trust them.

    I used to go to the H&R Block office on complicated years. (e.g. Interstate moves) but even those are now easily manageable yourself with one of the tax software packages.

    3) Your reasons not to started to build up to a level like those DirecTV commericals which show improbable chains of causality: “Don’t renounce your citizenship. Do your own taxes.”

    4) On a more serious note, I met a guy who is a CFP Certificant, looking to start a 2nd career as a fee-only planner. More specifically, he wanted to get into “financial coaching,” which is to advise people who were interested in doing things themselves, rather than creating a complete plan from scratch and handing it over to the client. He said not many CFP’s did this, because there was less money in it. (obviously) But it would be interesting if there was a CPA equivalent, for those with complicated situations but also the will to do it, if only some clear answers were provided.

    H&R Block actually does something like this. With their software, you can get a free call with a preparer to answer questions. (and I’m sure you can pay for more, if you want) I think this kind of professional support will make DIY an even better option.

    • says

      Ahh, the picture has a deeper meaning Matt! As a veteran reason, I’m surprised you haven’t caught the innuendo of my happy giraffes!

      Knowing tax strategies is HUGE for financial coaching since taxes is often our largest expense!

    • says

      Funny you mention this. As a licensed tax professional, I am also interested in financial coaching as well. Heck, I want to get my series 65 and do investments as well, and I believe having a solid knowledge of the tax code is THE foundation to have when doing any kind of financial planning. It’s going to be a tough gig, but is something I’ve always dreamed of. Just need to lay out the 5 year plan and reverse engineer the milestones to make it happen.

  12. says

    I have done my own taxes since I was about 17 years old. Not once did I fall victim to anything in the why not do your own taxes this year. Number two was my pitfall. When I saw that we owed, (first time ever I have owed), I got very angry when I saw why. We were just over $1k in income to claim the full PMI and student loan interest that we were able to claim last year which would have allowed us to broke even. Very frustrating.

    • says

      Ah yes… making $1K more and not being able to deduct student loan interest must be INFURIATING! Why are you a lesser person than someone who makes $1K less? Our tax rules are discriminatory and ridiculous.

  13. Mike Hunt says

    I do it myself.. turbo tax rocks. Did you know Timothy Geithner was in Thailand, working for the IMF when he failed to report his car and driver benefits. The key thing is he was paying zero taxes in Thailand.

    As someone who pays high taxes in Thailand, I’m proud to say I owe ZERO Federal taxes, in spite of making some passive dividend / interest income in the USA, simply because I am paying so much foreign tax.

    And after the internal political vetting process, it was found that Timothy did owe money, which he dutifully paid before taking the job. The gov’t was kind enough to waive all fees, penalties and interest charges. Too bad we cannot receive the same treatment.

    -MIke

  14. Steve H says

    I usually go to a professional every four years or so and do my own in the years in between. I have always had pretty straight forward income and investments and the popular software always made it easy for me to do my own. Even so, I liked seeing if my preparation compared to the pro.

    Retiring last year made it tricky because of a lump sum payout from my employer and switching from employment to retirement income. I also looked forward to k-1’s for the first time in my life and I wanted to see how those were handled. The pro was worth it this year. Knew about a little known tax code with regard to the lump sum retirement pay out that netted me thousands. I would have missed that for sure.

    • says

      Steve, that is a SMART way to go. Hopefully the professional can catch any errors of past and get you some more money. My fear is that the professional catches too many errors, then I gotta spend a lot of time and more money filing an amendment.

      Glad your pro helped you save thousands!

  15. nbsdmp says

    I do not do my own taxes to avoid the likelyhood of me joining some wacked out militia group wanting to over-throw the government. (just kidding of course) But honestly it sickens me to see that I’m paying into a system that is so incredibly wasteful and has no plans to change it. I could have bought a nice 458 with the extra this year if only we had a flat tax in this country with everybody paying a “fair share”.

  16. says

    The last time I prepared my own taxes was a very long time ago! I started to go to a CPA when I started to invest in income property in the late 70’s. I still use a CPA, because it is cheap insurance to keep me from being too aggressive. The added value is I get advice during the year for no cost.

      • says

        I have used him for roughly 28 years, he is more conservative than me. It is one of the reasons I use him. If he described a scenario that I felt uncomfortable with, I can always say no. For example, this year, I decided it was appropriate to write off my home office space. I told him not to depreciate my home. It “may” have triggered an audit and I didn’t think it worth the risk.

  17. says

    I’ve done both: done taxes myself and had an accountant do them. I hated doing taxes on my own because who wants to spend all that time, but the flexibility on when to work on it definitely was nice. I use an accountant now to help me out and things have been going well. No one is perfect though as I caught a small mistake he made. He was able to correct it so that got straightened out and I’ve been learning a lot in the process. I also like being able to ask him super specific questions and get a straight answer. I feel like the tax pros who work for tax software companies are helpful if you contact them but they can’t really give out super specific answers to your individual situation.

  18. says

    I always did our taxes with H & R Block’s platform and finally hired a CPA last year. I love working with the numbers and working to see how much we could get back, but they just became too complex for me to confidently deal with as our business started growing. It was taking me too much time and was just no fun to do. Now, we have someone who we can ask tax questions to without being charged and can do other things as opposed to wasting my time getting angry at the computer.

  19. says

    I have my taxes done. There is a local company with several branches that only charges $65 for a personal return and an additional $5 for each of my children’s returns(as long as they still live with me). The perk is that, as long as I provide correct information, the preparer will go with me to an audit if the need arises.

  20. says

    Heh. Another chuckle-worthy post! Soon you will also be in a shack writing manifestos! I do my own taxes because I refuse to submit to a tax code that encourages us to have to pay a preparer because it is so gawd-awful convoluted that we should all demand that it be changed immediately.

    Then again, I’m apparently in the minority with this view.

    • says

      Samurai Bomber! J/K.

      This whole blog has a manifesto section called BIG GOVERNMENT to help folks see the light to STOP feeding the government beast and voting to raise taxes on others.

  21. says

    #1 and #2 seem like different ends of the same point. I don’t do my own taxes for the same reason that people hired me as an advisor: my taxes are uber complicated and I didn’t want to miss anything. For some of my clients, it wasn’t worth the money to hire someone else to do their taxes….for others, they made far more money handing them off than struggling with them alone.

  22. says

    I’ve done my own taxes since I was 16 years old (in 1970). I picked up the 1040EZ forms from the local bank and read it all to understand it. That took a lot initially, but I’ve been happily doing my own taxes since then.
    I don’t see a reason to stop doing them myself because as you point out, you can put your energy where you need to in order to minimize taxes. One that you didn’t mention is that doing one’s taxes can also keep one’s mind on track so that you don’t run the risk of getting iforgethowtodobasicmathitis.

    • says

      The only problem I’d have doing my own taxes would be regarding taxable investment (i.e. not in a 401k/IRA). After all, once you start with the simpler taxes, you simply add on deductibility – or not – of property taxes and/or mortgage interest.
      The IRS rules and their PDF documents for filling out the forms are readily searchable and easy to use.

    • says

      I also use TurboTax to do what-if scenarios for the following year.
      Increase 401K, decrease Roth, vice-versa. Effect of child tax credit and if we were to loose 1, 2, 3, or all 4 of our Child Tax credits.

    • says

      Chris, you don’t look old enough to be doing them since 1970! Well done mate.

      The scenario analysis is definitely something I love doing so I know what to do in the future to save on taxes.

  23. says

    I did our taxes online for the first time this year and all went well. We don’t have a complicated return so it made sense to tackle the job on my own. I think if we started to add rental income, business income etc we would hire someone to do them. So, for now I’ll keep doing it and see where it takes us. Great tips!

  24. Chad says

    I did my own taxes until I bought my first home. I hired a professional for that year, asked a bunch of questions, and learned enough to do it myself the following years.

    Every 4-5 years something large changes in my finances and I go back to a pro to figure out how things work.

    It’s not the most economical option but I find having a professional walk me through a significant new aspect of my taxes once takes far less time than me trying to interpret IRS documentation and do it myself.

  25. says

    It’s better to let someone do our taxes, but I think it is also good to have an idea of where our money is going, so even if you don’t do your own taxes, it is better to keep yourself well informed when it comes to financial matter, taxes being one of them.

  26. says

    I do my own taxes using an online program. It’s worked out fine so far (second year doing them with a program) and there seem to be less errors. However, speaking with a colleague the other day, I realize I missed out on some deductions I didn’t know I could take (they use an accountant). But, if I compare the $80 I pay versus the $400 my colleague pays, surely it wouldn’t make up the difference, right? I don’t think so.

    • says

      Your accountant could easily miss errors as well, especially if s/he is overloaded during tax season as they always are! With your income streams, I’d just do it yourself and save money.

  27. says

    I’ve always done my own, and now as a tax professional, it’s much better, but I definitely missed out on some tax return money. I got audited once, but it wasn’t too bad. Just forgot to fill out my schedule D for reporting capital gains on investments sold, but I just reached out to my advisor, got the info, filled it out and sent it in. Not too bad. The worst is when small businesses get audited. The IRS usually starts with “we’re disallowing everything”, and compromises with “well, we’ll allow half of your expenses”, even if they’re all legitimate. That’s when you NEED a professional to fight on your behalf.

  28. says

    I used to do my own taxes with the help of Turbotax, but once I got married and inherited The Wife’s business (with quarterly estimates) I prefer to use a CPA. This has only been compounded with 2 more businesses in the recent past.

    I like having the option of someone to yell at if something goes wrong.

  29. says

    This is one of the last frontiers for me. In my defense I have only lived in the US for the last 3 years, and have several S Corp businesses; so its been a little tricky doing my own. But each year that goes by I learn a little more and will man up to the task eventually.

    At the end of the day everything else I do I take accountability for, and don’t trust others- there is no reason that Tax should be any different.

    The biggest error I caught this year for filing was from one of my Brokerages that omitted a trade Cap Loss of $6000 in their Schedule D, which I caught before passing onto the accountant, so I am getting close to taking the stabilizer wheels off the bike!

  30. Darwin's Money says

    I used to do my own taxes when I just had W-2 income but switched to using an accountant when I threw in the various entities like LLC for blog, LLC/LPs for real estate and an LLC for the outsourcing business. I wasn’t up for generating K-1s and had partners to consider. All-in though, for just my personal return, he collates the returns from the other ventures and it’s like $300 something each year. Not too bad considering it would take me hours and complete all the crap. It’s totally worth it to me. For me the threshold is if you have stuff outside the normal W-2 and a couple routine deductions which can all be done easily in Turbotax, then pay a pro.

  31. eastbay says

    I having been doing taxes for my wife and I on line with TurboTax (I might change that next year…. see below). But a recent article I read about some IRS studies convinces me to continue to do my own: The IRS found that returns prepared by paid preparers had *more* errors than returns prepared by the individual doing their own taxes!

    About TurboTax: recently (after I filed this year’s taxes) I read that TurboTax had lobbied Congress to *not* allow the IRS to simplify how we do taxes! They like it complicated and difficult because that keeps them in business.

    So next year I might look for a different on-line company.

    • says

      Very interesting and so true!

      Who is more careful about our money? Ourselves or someone we pay who does hundreds a year?

      Is lobby for Congress to extend the tax code to 1 MILLION pages too. Tax firms would be on fire and make investors rich!

  32. says

    A lot depends on the complexity of your taxes. Most people can do it themselves, either on paper or with an online service. With an online service you just need to follow all the steps. But paying for a tax service is not much different than paying to have your oil changed or lawn mowed. Some people would rather pay than do it themselves, even if they can. If your taxes remain relatively the same from year to year, you can pay once, then replicate it yourself the next year.

  33. says

    I have always wanted to try and do my own taxes, but every year I end up at my accountant’s office. I work with money and numbers all day as a Financial Planner, I just can’t bring myself to do it for my taxes too. I don’t mind paying a fee to have a professional take care of my taxes…especially since I get a refund. Great post Sam, I am going to share it next Friday on our Dinks Finance weekly roundup.

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