Famous Last Words... My tax situation is pretty simple

Several years ago, I met a woman who was involved in carriage driving. I remarked on how well behaved her horse was and asked who trained her. The woman said that she got the horse from a family who bought the filly as a yearling and trained her themselves. They had never owned a horse before and decided that as a family project, they would buy a horse and train it to drive. Their only resource for how to train the filly was a book that they bought on raising and training horses.
A lot of you who are reading this are probably cringing, thinking of all the ways this experience could have gone terribly wrong. 99% of the time, it wouldn't have a happy ending. Horses are complicated and some of the time most of us need assistance from professionals who know how to do the job right.
Most of us wouldn't try to do electrical wiring or writing our own legal contracts. So why do so many people do their own tax returns?

It isn't uncommon when I first meet a prospective client or speak with an attendee at a seminar that they tell me that their tax situation is pretty uncomplicated. But when we go on to discuss the situation further, it can prove to be anything but straightforward. As I start to explain the intricacies of some of their tax issues, I hear "How am I supposed to know that?" or "This is more complicated than I thought".

Quoting U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus from AL:

"With its 6,000 pages and 500 million words, the complexity of our tax code is the prime source of frustration and anger felt by millions of Americans toward their government."

CPAs and Enrolled Agents spend a significant portion of time staying informed about current tax law. How can someone who only prepares one tax return once a year be aware of all of the issues that can affect their tax situation?

Here is a sample of questions that I've heard recently:


1. Is the scholarship I received taxable?

2. How much of my Social Security benefits are taxable?

3. I surrendered my life insurance policy for cash. Does that affect my taxes?


1. If I give my employees gifts for Christmas, is the cost deductible?

2. If I am a one person S Corporation, can I set up a health insurance plan for myself that is non-taxable to me and deductible for the corporation?

3. What is a Section 179 deduction?

If something is wrong on your tax return, it may be a red flag to the IRS which can trigger an audit or it may increase the amount of taxes you pay or decrease the amount of your refund. But it's not something you realize at the time. It can take years to discover the problem which could translate into amending the tax returns for all the years involved.

There are certainly people other than CPAs and Enrolled Agents who can correctly prepare a return. And there are tax returns that are fairly simple and straightforward for the average taxpayer to prepare. How do you know if that's your situation?

1. You can hire a tax preparer to review your prior year return to see if you have any potential problems.

2. You can hire a tax preparer to prepare your return this year. Compare it to what you did last year (assuming your situation has not changed significantly) and see what the differences are.

3. Schedule a consultation with a tax preparer and explain your business or personal situation. They may be willing to point you toward tax issues specific to your situation.

Tax returns done wrong can be a costly problem to remedy. Get expert advice and then decide whether preparing your tax return yourself is the best alternative for you.