2008-02-24

Nothing is certain but

I've been doing taxes for a little over a decade now. In doing so, I'm always torn between my desire to be frugal (cheap) and a fear of the IRS. When my taxes were uncomplicated (i.e., I had one part time job and was my parents dependent), I could handle a 1040EZ myself and even filed over the phone for a few years. But since I've moved out on my own, gotten a real job, and bought a house, I began to seriously doubt my ability get all the details right, and yet I also balked at the thought of paying someone a hundred bucks to do it for me, since it didn't seem quite that complicated.

The result? I have filed my taxes online for the last several years. Online, I think you get the best mix of low-cost, ease of use, and accuracy. (This year, I filed my Federal and state taxes online $25 dollars in about two hours.) What's more, you get your tax return in less than 2 weeks, and the web-site you use to file your taxes will retain your records from year to year, greatly simplifying next year's return.

I'm not going to tell you which site I use, since I don't want this to be a big ad, but I will say it is one of the top two or three tax preparers in the country. I have been quite pleased, and I would imagine that the other top companies have websites that are just as easy to use.

A few other tax time tips:
  • File for free! If your adjusted gross income is less than 54,000 dollars, then you are entitled to file over the internet for FREE! Check out the IRS website for details: http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118986,00.html.
  • If you file in Utah and don't itemize, there is NO NEED to pay extra money to e-file your state tax return. Utah already has a very easy to use website at https://secure.utah.gov/taxexpress/taxexpressweb. All you have to do is take 2 numbers from your federal tax return, fill them in on the Utah Tax website, and then you can easily file your taxes and get your return electronically deposited in just a few days.
  • Despite what you may think, you DO NOT want a huge tax return in April. If you have a huge tax return, that means that your company has been withholding a lot more of your earnings than are needed. This frequently happens to those that make large charitable contributions (like Church members) or first time home buyers (mortgage interest is a deduction) . The way to reduce your withholding is to file a new W-4 with your employer. The IRS has a convenient calculator that you can use to fill out a W-4 that will safely allow you to minimize your federal tax withholding. The calculator takes into account charitable contributions you plan on making, interest you'll pay on your house, 401k contributions, how much you're going to earn for the rest of the year, and how much in taxes you've already paid.
  • Know when to use a professional. If you own your own business, have lots of deductible expenses, inherited a large amount of money, or do a lot of investing, taxes can get very complicated very fast, and a professional is most certainly worth the money. My parents filed their own taxes for years, and the very first year they went to an accountant, they saved several thousand dollars; not just for the current year, but for previous years as well.
  • Plan for future taxes. Your tax liability will always be changing, but you can make decisions now to reduce your tax liability in the future. For example, if you're single with a high paying job, then you might consider contributing heavily to pre-tax retirement accounts, or buying a home instead of renting -- as these will effectively reduce your taxable income.
I suppose I should close this post with the obligatory quote about death and taxes, but I'll refrain.