This is part 1 of a 2 part series on hiring an accountant versus using Turbo Tax or Tax Cut. The second part of hiring an accountant versus using Turbo Tax or Tax Cut can be found by clicking here.
This year marks the first year that my wife and I are hiring an accountant to do our taxes for us and I’m pretty nervous about our decision. Even though I absolutely hate doing them, I’ve filed my own taxes for well over a decade now and I’ve done so because I prefer keeping my financial data private. I also like the feeling of control I get from being able to see how all of the numbers are calculated. That’s not to say that I don’t trust my accountant but while we’ve had an accountant for quite some time now, we’ve only used him as an advisor and never for any actual work.
I’m especially nervous because by having someone else file our taxes for us, we are essentially turning over all of our sensitive financial data to a stranger and paying him to file a crucial document that could have a big effect on our finances. So yes, my wife and I are making this decision with a few reservations.
Since I’m a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, I thought I’d document some of my thought processes about our decision to use an accountant over Turbo Tax. I’m also going to conduct an experiment to see whether having an accountant really makes a difference in terms of tax savings. BTW, I’m sure some of my readers have their own accountants do their taxes for them with no issues. For those of you who do, please feel free to chime in at anytime.
Why Do We Need An Accountant?
With the birth of our second child, our business, this blog and the book that I’m working on, my wife and I have very little time to spare. Every free moment that we have, we would prefer to be hanging out and relaxing as a family rather than crunching numbers. It typically takes us a good solid weekend to put our taxes together so ideally, we’d rather not be devoting our brain power towards something we hate doing. Plus, we aren’t experts on taxation by any means.
Filing our taxes in the past has been relatively straightforward. We use Turbo Tax, and in theory Turbo Tax should calculate the numbers the same way that any accountant would. But deep down, I wonder whether a human accountant could find us more deductions than a computer program. For those of you with accountants, does your accountant find deductions that Turbo Tax can’t? I’m curious to find out.
What Does An Accountant Buy You Exactly?
Our accountant charges $200 an hour. This year, filing our taxes will cost us approximately $500 which includes our LLC. Compare that to the $75 that we usually spend on Turbo Tax and we’re blowing an extra $425. So what does this extra $425 buy us?
The accountant will prepare and file all of our taxes for us. All we have to do is provide him with all of the necessary data. Everything sounds pretty straightforward except for one thing. The accountant typically does not audit the data we provide and we are the ones responsible for any writeoffs we make with our business. While he will alert us of any red flags, by default he will not challenge or check up on our business deductions and will only do so if we ask. Needless to say, at $200/hr his time can really add up if we just hand him a bunch of receipts. That being said, it is nice to be able to ask an actual human questions regarding any borderline deductions that we might be taking which could trigger an audit.
I was also under the impression that our accountant was responsible for filing our taxes correctly. In other words, our accountant would be on the hook if we ever got audited. While this is true to a certain extent, it turns out that we are ultimately responsible for providing the correct numbers for the tax calculations.
In the event of an audit, the accountant is responsible for only the calculations and not the actual baseline data. For example, even if our accountant advises us to take a borderline tax deduction, we are still responsible for proving that the deduction is legit despite his advice. In addition, in the event of an audit, it costs extra money for the accountant to respond if he is not at fault.
The good thing about having an accountant is that in theory, he is supposed to file your taxes optimally based on your numbers and your current tax situation. He may be aware of obscure tax rules that could save you money and you don’t have to lift a finger. If you trust your accountant, everything should be taken care of correctly with no worrying on your part.
What About Turbo Tax?
Good ole Turbo Tax is super cheap. It costs us $75 only because we buy the home business deluxe version. The base version I believe is free for the federal filing. In theory, Turbo Tax should be aware of all of the latest deductions and ask you the right questions so you can take advantage of all of the tax breaks much like an actual accountant would.
While Turbo Tax is supposed to act like a virtual accountant, I personally find myself always erring on the side of extreme conservativism when it comes to taking deductions with Turbo Tax. Sometimes the descriptions are obscure and not well explained so I’d rather not take the risk. The thing I hate about Turbo Tax is that I’m always afraid that I’m leaving money on the table by not taking deductions that I’m entitled to because I don’t understand the deduction thoroughly.
That being said, one of the things that I like about Turbo Tax is that they offer this program called Audit Defense. For an extra $40, an accountant or an account representative will take care of dealing with the IRS for you in the event of an audit. One of my friends was audited last year and “Audit Defense” took care of everything. In the end, they discovered that he made a typo on his filing that was easily correctable and he didn’t have to pay anything extra. There was no hassle at all because Audit Defense took care of everything.
The other thing that I like about Turbo Tax is that you get to keep an electronic version of all of the worksheets that can easily be imported into Turbo Tax the following year. You can also try different scenarios to see what effects certain deductions and filing options have on your bottom line. In other words, you have complete visibility over your taxes and it’s dirt cheap. Ultimately, Turbo Tax is great for control freaks like myself who like to do everything themselves.
Since I’m a skeptic, I’m going to be conducting an experiment with our accountant. Even though we are going to pay him $500 to file our taxes, I’m going to go ahead and prepare my tax return with Turbo Tax and compare the two to see if there’s a difference.
If the accountant can save me more than $425, then it’s a no brainer to use him again. For my wife and I, it’s less about the money as it is about time savings so if he is on par or a little better than Turbo Tax, we’ll be satisfied. In any case, I’ll post the results of my accountant vs Turbo Tax results come tax time once I’ve completed the filing.
How many of you use an accountant vs filing taxes yourself? Has your accountant saved you money that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to save?
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