Can I file my own tax return?
Yes. Most transactions in tax and accounting are simple. As long as you know the background and how everything relates to you and your unique situation. The steps are simple, but there are thousands of them. The question to ask is, SHOULD I file my own tax return? Answer: maybe not.
There are many tax software companies out there that are great tools. Some even offer “FREE” filing, but it is usually only for very simple returns and doesn’t include your state filings. These programs ask you a series of questions and walk you through your returns. As long as you understand all the questions (and answer them all correctly), you should have a solid return. However, the software only takes you down the series of questions that it determines you need based on your answers. There are many tax related questions you are never asked. A perfect example walked into our office a couple years ago. He had been completing his own taxes for years to save money and decided to have Jenkins CPA complete them to save time. As we were chatting, I asked him about his family and he told me about his 6 children and how hard it had been over the last few years getting the oldest few through college. While looking over his previous returns, I didn’t see any education credits. I asked him about the missing credits and he said the software he was using never asked him about his children’s college expenses. Digging a little deeper we discovered that the software asked, “Did you have any higher education expenses in XX year?” Because HE did not, he answered no. Had he answered yes, it would have opened up an entire set of questions beginning with, “Who in your household had higher education expenses?” He didn’t properly understand the importance of the question. We were able to amend his previous 3 years and get him some missed refunds, but anything prior to that was lost. The cost was thousands of dollars that he could have used to help his family with all the education expenses.
We see these kinds of costly errors all the time. It’s what you don’t know that will trip you up. We have spent countless hours becoming masters of our trade. Through education and experience with thousands of examples and situations we have developed a deep understanding of the tax law and have learned how to take advantage of the benefits and avoid the pitfalls.
With the proper tools I am certain that I could build a brick wall. Every brick is simple to pick up and place. The proper tools are helpful when completing a project, but it is the mastery of the skill that makes the mason’s wall taller, straighter and sturdier.
Maybe your return is really just a few entries into a tax software, but maybe it could be more. Are you sure you are not leaving anything on the table? The software can not recognize the pause. That hesitation when it asks you a question and you are not entirely sure of the answer. A tax preparer will. They will ask more questions about that hesitation. What was it that crossed your mind? Could it be helpful? The next time you pause while completing your own return, think of me.
Heather Jenkins, CPA
Jenkins CPA, LLC
204 Village Center Street
Nixa, MO 65714