It’s the age-old question. Which is better: to hire an accountant to do your taxes or use TurboTax or one of the many other tax filing software programs out there?
The answer to that question varies based on a number of factors. Each tax situation is different and each individual is different.
For that reason, you’ll need to consider a variety of questions before you can decide which way is most beneficial for your tax filing needs.
In This Article
- Which is Better: Hiring An Accountant or Using TurboTax?
- TurboTax Pros
- Doesn’t Using an Accountant Wash My Hands of Responsibility for Errors?
- Using an Accountant
Which is Better: Hiring An Accountant or Using TurboTax?
Plenty of people have found money savings by doing their taxes themselves. Still others swear by their CPA.
By pondering the questions below, you can learn more about the benefits of using a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) to do your taxes.
And about using a tax filing software program such as TurboTax.
There are benefits to both options. But you’ll need to do some research to discover which choice is best for you.
Here are some things to think about for both scenarios before you decide how to proceed with tax filing.
Filing with TurboTax
One of the great things about using tax software such as TurboTax to do your taxes is that they have a number of different programs for people in every tax situation.
Just for your benefit, I’ll share the scoop on each of the different programs they offer. I’ll also share what types of tax filers might benefit from each program.
TurboTax Free Edition
Yes, I said “free”. With TurboTax’s Free Edition, you’ll pay absolutely nothing to file your federal taxes – OR your state taxes.
This is a popular program with TurboTax for obvious reasons; it doesn’t cost a dime! The free edition isn’t for every tax filer.
However, if you are filing a 1040 form and fit the other parameters listed below, you can use TurboTax’s Free Edition.
- There’s no 1099-MISC income; W-2 income only
- You don’t need to file schedules 1-3
- You don’t own a business, a home, or own rental properties
- There are no major medical expenses
In other words, if you earn your money via an employer and have a pretty basic tax situation, you qualify for TurboTax’s Free edition and can file your taxes for free.
You can file for Earned Income Credit and child tax credits with the free version.
TurboTax says the Deluxe version is their most popular version. It costs $59 ($39 if you catch them during a sale) for federal filing and $39 to file with your state.
Who is the Deluxe version for? Probably for the majority of tax filers. Here are the suggested parameters for using TurboTax Deluxe.
- Recommended for homeowners with interest payment and property tax deductions
- Recommended for those with cash and check or direct withdrawal charitable deductions
- Comes with access to over 350 different deduction scenarios to help you maximize your refund
This version would be good provided you don’t have business income, rental property income or investment income.
If you have a small business, own rentals, or have a lot of investments, you’ll want to go with TurboTax’s next step up; the Premier version.
TurboTax Premier costs $89 for federal filers ($69 during a sale), and the same additional charge for state filers as with the Deluxe edition: $39.
What do you get when you choose the Premier version over the other two choices? You’ll get everything offered with the Deluxe version, along with these extra features.
- Automatically import your investment info from your investment account website to your Schedule D form
- You can find your cost basis
- Lets you easily set up your rental properties and calculate depreciation in order to maximize your deductions
This version sports a pretty good price for those with investments and rental properties.
My tax guy charges about $160 and that’s without any investment or rental property info – and he’s super cheap for this area.
If you are needing deductions for investments and rental properties, chances are you’re going to pay a lot more than $130 if you’re using an accountant.
Next in line comes TurboTax’s Self-Employed version. Yep, you guessed it – it’s for business owners.
If you’re self-employed and run a sole proprietorship or a small business, this could be a good program for you.
The Self-Employed version costs $119 ($89 during a sale) for federal filing and $39 for state. This brings the grand total non-sale cost for this version to $158.
This is probably less expensive than many tax professionals would cost in most areas. But it might be worth it to check their prices just to be sure.
Along with all of the benefits of the Premier version, TurboTax’s Self-Employed version gives you the following additional benefits.
- It has the ability to search for industry-specific deductions based on your business
- Covers common side hustle businesses such as ridesharing, graphic design and web design
- It has an expansive list of deductions for nearly all types of businesses
- Guarantees you’ll get every deduction you deserve and your biggest refund
- It’s designed specifically for Schedule C business owners
This could be a great product for you if you have a smaller business.
It’s helpful if you want an easier and more cost-effective way to file your taxes, yet still getting the maximum in deductions you qualify for.
TurboTax Live is popular program that gives you quick access to tax experts.
Along with all of the benefits of the other TurboTax editions, with TurboTax live you’ll get on-demand help with your tax filing from a Certified Public Accountant or an EA (Enrolled Agent.
EA’s are tax specialists that are federally licensed specifically for assisting people with tax help).
And your agent will be with you, assisting as you fill out each and every section of your tax form so that you don’t miss anything.
Also, when your return is finished you can have your return double-checked and reviewed by a TurboTax specialist just to make absolutely sure you haven’t missed anything.
The price for the TurboTax Live services is priced based on what TurboTax version you use:
- Basic: $89 (free or discounted during special offers) for federal and $0 for state
- Deluxe: $129 ($89 during special offers) for federal and $49 for state
- Premier: $179 ($139 during special offers) for federal and $49 for state
- Self-Employed: $209 ($169 during special offers) for federal and $49 for state
Now, this is getting a bit spendier as far as tax software goes. However, it could be an option for more complex returns that is still less expensive than hiring an accountant would be.
In my research, I found that many CPAs charge between $200 and $350 per hour for their services.
With TurboTax Live you could get help from a CPA or EA without paying an astronomical amount of money.
The total for federal and state with the Live version doesn’t exactly sound cheap when compared to the other TurboTax products.
But I’m guessing it’s still likely going to be a lot less expensive than hiring an accountant on your own who charges a high hourly rate.
Free Filing For Military Members
Oh, I forgot to mention one other thing about TurboTax. If you’re a member of the United States military, you can get all non-live TurboTax products for free.
Just enter your military W-2 to verify your rank when you file.
This is just a nice little “thank you” from TurboTax to all of our military personnel.
If you’re using an accountant, you may want to ask them if they offer military discounts as well. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned.
So, what can be some of the pros of going with TurboTax as opposed to an accountant? What about the cons? Let’s do a quick rundown.
TurboTax Will Likely Be More Cost Efficient
In most cases, you’ll probably find TurboTax to be more cost efficient than using a tax specialist. And that’s even if you choose one of the costlier versions of the software.
In my case, I’d probably use the Self-Employed version which costs $209, or $169 if you can sign up in time for the discount. Since my guy charges me $160, it’s almost a wash from a price standpoint.
However, I’ve been told by several people that my guy charges much less than most tax specialists.
I guess that’s one of the benefits of forming long-term relationships with other professionals.
If I was paying what most of my self-employed friends pay to get their taxes done, TurboTax would definitely be more cost effective.
Many of my friends pay upwards of $300 to $400 to get their taxes done by an accountant.
They Make it Easy to Enter Your Deductions
TurboTax is pretty simple to use. I know this because I used them once to compare which option got me a better refund; my accountant or TurboTax.
At that time the refunds came out the same.
But it’s true; TurboTax was very easy to use. I just followed the directions and entered what they told me to do.
I didn’t have to educate myself on tax laws too much or Google questions on the Internet, although the program did help me learn more about deductions and tax laws.
You Can File In Your Own Time
When you hire an accountant, you’re kind of tied to their schedule. With TurboTax, you can work in your own time and even leave and come back to your returns later if you need to.
This is a nice benefit for people who don’t always have complete control over their schedules.
TurboTax Will Help Educate You on Tax Laws
One thing TurboTax might help you do is learn a thing or two about tax laws and how they work.
Generally, when you work with an accountant you simply hand them your paperwork. Then they hand you back a completed return and you’re on your way.
With TurboTax you get a chance at an education in tax filing as you are reading the requirements and inputting the numbers yourself.
If you like numbers and accounting, or if you’re interested in learning more about the tax filing system, this could be another benefit of using TurboTax.
You’re in Full Control of What’s Submitted
Another reason people like filing with tax software programs such as TurboTax is because they like being involved in every aspect of the numbers that are input on their behalf.
When you use an accountant, you give up a certain amount of control regarding your tax return.
You hand your stuff to the tax specialist, and he or she hands it back to you with a note telling you what your refund will be or how big of a check you need to write.
You have little to no idea what numbers were entered into your return.
Unless you scrutinize your return with a fine-toothed comb you’re going to have to take your accountant at his word that there were no mistakes made or deductions missed.
However, if you’d rather see first-hand exactly what numbers are being used and which deductions are being included, you might prefer using TurboTax.
Programs like these will walk you through every line item of your return so that you can make sure you’re considering every potential deduction.
This process gives you complete control over the numbers that are entered and the expenses and deductions that are included.
Doesn’t Using an Accountant Wash My Hands of Responsibility for Errors?
This is a common misperception, but the real answer is to it is “no”. I know – I was surprised too!
But I learned that when your taxes are audited, your accountant is responsible for providing correct calculations and numbers input. You are responsible for the data you provide.
If you’re not double checking that you’ve given the numbers correctly, and you don’t have proof of what types of numbers you’re handing over to the accountant, you absolutely could be on the line for errors made.
Which reminds me of a nice bonus: TurboTax offers users audit guidance in the case of an audit.
They also have an additional product you can purchase called Audit Defense that will provide you with guidance on how to prepare if you are ever audited.
This might be an extra worth purchasing, especially if you’ve got a complicated return.
So, in which types of cases should you consider using an accountant instead?
Let’s go over some different scenarios and talk about when it might be better for you to forego do-it-yourself tax software in favor of using a CPA or other tax specialist.
Related Post: TurboTax Review
Using an Accountant
A Certified Public Accountant is an accountant who has passed rigorous exams to become licensed by their state of residence in various accounting procedures.
CPAs and other tax experts generally know a whole lot more about the tax laws than regular guys and gals like you and me.
Keep in mind when using an accountant that you will likely be charged an hourly rate–and not a cheap one. And you’ll have to conform to the accountant’s time schedule.
After all, tax preparers have many clients and need to address each one’s needs.
This means that your calls and emails to an accountant about your tax filing might not be answered immediately.
Most CPAs are working with other people too, so you’ll need to be patient.
Here are some common situations where it might be best for you to consider using a tax specialist such as an accountant instead of using a tax software program and doing it yourself.
You Don’t Want to Know the Ins and Outs of Tax Filing
As I mentioned before, using tax software like TurboTax is easy. Most online tax filing program are made to be super user friendly.
However, What if you just aren’t interested in learning how to file your own taxes, no matter how easy it is?
In that case you may be better off paying the extra money to have an accountant do it.
It’s up to you to decide if the convenience of just handing your paperwork over to someone else is worth the price.
But keep in mind you’ll still be responsible for gathering all of the numbers an accountant would need to complete your taxes.
You’re a New Business Owner
Is the first year you’ve opened or purchased your business? If so, you may want to consider using an accountant for your first time filing as a business owner.
Unless you’ve had a similar business ownership in the past, there will likely be laws and deduction rules you’re not aware of.
An accountant will be helpful in those types of situations.
You’ve Had a Business Status Change
Complicated moves such as business status changes may warrant the use of an accountant for your tax filing as well.
Let’s say that during the year you’ve changed your business from a sole proprietorship to a corporation.
You’ll need to be sure you’ve filed all of the correct paperwork. And that you’ve calculated your expenses and deductions properly for both types of business statuses.
You’ll also need to be sure you have everything needed to begin the new year properly prepared as a corporation.
Any errors can result in fines and potential legal action from your state. In this case, using an account can help ensure you’ve got all of your ducks in a row.
You’ve Moved During the Year
Moving from one state to another can make tax situations complicated.
An experienced and trustworthy CPA should be able to help you sort your taxes out and determine how you divide your taxes payable, or refund owed between one state and another.
You’ve Had a Major Life Event
Kids and marriage often have a significant impact on one’s tax situation. If you’ve married during the year, you may not be sure what the best way to file is.
Do you file jointly? Separately? A good accountant should be able to advise you of the best way to file for your particular situation.
The same goes for having kids. Kids can come with lots of deductions – woohoo! But what can you deduct and what can’t you deduct?
An accountant should be able to help you determine what types of write-offs you qualify for as a parent.
Divorce situations can also be sticky at tax time. Who gets to claim the kids as deductions?
What are the rules regarding child support and alimony when it comes to taxes; are those things considered income? Can they be written off as expenses?
An accountant should know and be able to help you with assessing how these types of expenses (or income) can impact you from a tax standpoint.
And they can show you how to file in a way that doesn’t contradict with how your former spouse is filing.
You Have a Competent CPA Who Makes Your Life Easy
Sometimes, regardless of the ease, convenience and cost savings of do-it-yourself tax software programs, some people have a long-standing relationship with an accountant that just makes tax filing time easy for them.
If this is the case with you; you have your “guy” or your “gal”, and you’ve been using him or her for years on end and it’s just easier, you may decide you’d rather stick with what you’ve always done than learn something new and save some cash.
And that’s okay. Part of learning and implementing value-based spending into your budget is deciding which services and products are worth paying for.
In the end, there’s no right or wrong answer as a whole.
Whether you use a tax software program like TurboTax or whether you hire an accountant or other tax specialist to do your taxes is up to you and your individual tax situation.
I love it that state-of-the-art tax software programs have made it easier – even for those with more complicated returns.
It’s easier than ever for people to save money and time by filing their taxes on their own.
Any product that will help you save money, save time and learn a useful skill in the process is valuable in my book.
But at the end of the day only you can decide which tax filing method is best for you. It might be beneficial to give TurboTax a try if you never have before.
If for no other reason than just to see if it’s as easy and streamlined as people say it is.