By Guest Nicole
People worry a lot about the size of their tax bill this time of year, but the size of the bill simply to do their taxes often induces anxiety as well. Here are five simple ways to cut the cost of tax preparation.
1. Don’t pay for software you can get for free
A recent survey by NerdWallet and Harris Poll found that many taxpayers might be buying name-brand tax software that they could get at no cost through the IRS. That’s because people who made less than $64,000 during the 2016 tax year may qualify for the IRS’ Free File program, which gives them access to software from a range of providers, including big names like H&R Block and Intuit, which makes TurboTax.
If that’s you, the program is worth investigating. The IRS estimated in 2016 that more than 70% of American taxpayers — or about 100 million people — qualify to file their taxes for free through this program.
2. If you do pay for software, compare prices first
According to the NerdWallet survey, 40% of people who use tax software have used the same company for more than five years. Such loyalty can be expensive, because tax software prices change often and vary widely, even among competing versions designed for the same types of returns.
For example, freelancers who need software that can handle a Schedule C might want to compare the features of TurboTax’s online package for self-employed taxpayers, which sells for about $115 (plus $39.99 for a state return), with a similar offering from H&R Block that runs about $80 (plus $39.99 for a state return) or one from TaxSlayer priced at $35 (plus $22 for a state return).
3. Skip bells and whistles you don’t need
You may not need to pay for a provider’s high-end version if its less expensive version is good enough for your tax situation. Look carefully at the differences listed on the packages before you buy; it can cost around $20, sometimes more, to upgrade.
In fact, you may not need to pay at all. Even if you don’t qualify for the Free File option mentioned earlier, if your situation is simple enough many major tax-software providers run promotions that let you file a federal return — and often a state return — for free.
4. Avoid paying for human help if you can get it for free
Tax professionals charge $150 per hour on average to prepare federal and state returns, according to the National Society of Accountants. But many people might be able to get human help with tax prep or questions for free. Here are just some of the options:
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program helps community groups provide free tax services to people who generally earn $54,000 or less or who have disabilities or limited English skills. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program gives free tax help to anyone but specializes in issues relevant to older taxpayers. AARP’s Tax-Aide connects people with tax counselors who have advanced IRS training. There’s also an FAQ page where you can submit tax questions to IRS-certified volunteers. You don’t need an AARP membership to get help. Your tax software might come with free help from people via email, phone or online chat, though it’s more common among the higher-end paid versions. Ask your local tax pro. According to the National Society of Accountants, 89% of them offer free client consultations. 5. Get it together
If you’re hiring a tax preparer, don’t show up the day before the filing deadline, dump a pile of paper scraps on the desk and wish the person luck. You might end up paying hundreds more to get your taxes done. According to the National Society of Accountants, 24% of tax pros charge to expedite returns (the average fee is $85); 22% will hit you with a fee ($79 on average) if you show up with information after a set deadline; and 71% charge extra for disorganized or incomplete files (that runs an average $117).
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