There are many options for filing your tax return.
- Paper and pen. If your return is simple and you feel energetic, go to your public library or call the IRS to have paper forms mailed to you. Advantages: free. Slowly teaches you your own taxes. Disadvantages: error prone.
- Fill in the pdf forms at irs.gov. Print and sign. Advantages: free. Disadvantages: error prone.
- Go to irs.gov Freefile and choose a software company that will electronically file for you if your income is under $55,000. Advantages: free. Disadvantages: Not available for all. Will not file 1040NR. State filing is separate and usually not free.
- Use commercially available software (download or buy at local stores) Advantages: Stores your information on your own computer from year to year. Slowly teaches you your own taxes. I am a huge fan of most of these programs. Disadvantages: Not free.
- Go to your local VITA program. Some very good volunteers work at these (me!!). They are supervised by the IRS. Advantages: free. Disadvantages: Can be very time consuming.
- Use a paid preparer. Many well qualified people out there. Also a lot of yoyos. You'll have to use good judgment and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Attorneys can technically defend you in Tax Court (but then maybe they specialize in traffic cases!). CPAs are also very specialized. You are looking for someone who knows taxes. Enrolled agents pass tests in taxes only (but this doesn't mean they know anything at all about international filing requirements). I have met excellent preparers with no formal qualifications whatsoever (but good luck on finding them!!). The IRS is tightening up the requirements and most preparers are soon going to be required to pass some level of test to accept money for tax preparation.
Understand your tax return
All taxpayers are legally responsible for their tax return. This is true even if you pay someone to prepare it. Errors on the return will often be a small fine for the paid preparer but they will always be much more important to the individual taxpayer, in terms of time, trouble and money.
These pages have been prepared to help my friends and clients understand their returns. Most taxpayers should be able to prepare their own returns. All taxpayers should understand every line on the return.
In the forms, click on any section that is troubling you. If you are still puzzled, email me.
"Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's."
- Samuel "Billy" Wilder (1906 – 2002)