Filing your taxes is an important part of every adult's life. It is very important to file correctly in order to avoid possible penalties from the IRS. Choosing how to file your taxes is a big decision. For some people the best choice might be to file their own taxes, while others will need to obtain the assistance of a professional. Which option is right for you?
Do It Yourself
Filing your taxes yourself is the cheapest choice in the short term IF you have a fairly simple return. Young adults and people just starting in the work force can often get away with filing this way. There are many computer programs available that are inexpensive that will walk you through the process step by step. This is a fast, easy, and cheap way to file if you don't have a lot of complications in your income and deductions. Don't choose this option if you have income that comes in non-traditional ways, such as freelance work or if you are self-employed or own your own business. If audited, the ramifications of a mistake could be very expensive.
Tax Preparation Chains
There are many tax preparation chains that will sit down with you and help file your taxes. These chains employee tax preparers who are not necessarily experts in the tax field, but who have received several weeks/months of training and have passed a test. They use tax software to file your return. Choosing a tax preparation chain will cost more than filing yourself, but will still be cheaper than some other options. The process and turn around is fairly quick. If you have multiple income sources, or if you own your own business, you may be best off avoiding the tax preparation chain and going with an enrolled agent.
An enrolled agent focuses on filing taxes, and is licensed by the federal government. They are typically former IRS employees or have passed a vigorous test and taken continuing courses in taxes. Enrolled agents specialize in specific tax areas. They will be more expensive than the first two choices, but are very beneficial if you have a complex tax situation. They will also be able to represent you if you are audited.
CPA's and Tax Attorneys
CPA's and tax attorneys do not always file tax returns, but are able to help in other areas. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can help create a tax plan for you and help you with complicated finances. A tax attorney can help if you are being audited, if you are being charged with a criminal tax violation, or if you owe back taxes. Some CPA's and tax accountants will file taxes, but that is not their primary job.