How To File Taxes - Let Me Count The Ways

Income tax, Money, Personal FinanceYour W2 has either arrived or it’s very close.  It’s TAX SEASON! I’m perplexed so many people dread this annual American ritual, their shoulders slump they groan and sigh. For most, this is where you finally get a chance to get some of your money back. How is that a bad thing? I love tax season!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my battles with the IRS and they were not fun. It was through that experience that I not only learned to make sure I stayed on their good side, I also learned to really enjoy tax season.

Gearing up for tax season, we now have more choices than ever to complete and file our returns.

This article was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Len Penzo. Please check out this carnival for many other great articles about personal finance.

Snail Mail

The first year I completed my own taxes, the only option I was aware of was pen, paper and certified return receipt. Way back, when dinosaurs still roamed, you actually mailed hard copies. No, not e-mail, that was still too new. Our taxes were actually carried by the nearly extinct profession of mail carriers. You then waited several weeks as the kind folks in the IRS reviewed your return to validate that you completed it properly and completely. Once, they completed the process a check would be mailed to you.

A snail mail return is still an option, but there are others.

Tax Service / Professional

If you simply cannot handle or prefer to avoid the paperwork, documentation and paperwork you can hire someone else to do it for you. Tax preparers are out in force trying to capture your business.

These services vary greatly in cost. Depending on your situation, a simple EZ form and basic help may be had for as little as $30. On the high end, hiring a professional may be very expensive; several hundred, even thousands.

For accountants, the National Society of Accounts survey found the average return cost $205.

H&R Block’s average cost per return last year was $187.18.

Computer Software

Maybe you want to do your own taxes but need a guiding hand? There are a number of resources for you to tap.

My personal choice over the last several years has been TurboTax.

I’ve not used them but there are other commercial Tax software applications including TaxAct and H&R Block At Home, among others. Here is a review of tax software applications. Prices vary depending on where you purchase and the version of software you choose. For example, TurboTax has Deluxe and Premiere levels that range from than $29.95 to $49.95 for the Federal only. The state application is $36.95.

On-Line Tax Software

Most companies that will sell you software also provide an on-line version for your use. With these you won’t be cramming more software on to your system as you will process your taxes on the software’s servers. It appears there are even more options with these web based options. Here is a review of several on-line tax preparation applications.

Prices on these options have an even greater range. A no-frills choice may be as low as $8 going up to $60.

Free e-File

For those that make less than $57,000 in 2009 you are likely eligible to use one of several free e-file services. To obtain this free help, you must link to the software site through the IRS. Just go to this website at the IRS and follow the directions.

Free Hybrid- On-line Fillable Forms

For my fellow old dogs, if you are already tax savvy but don’t want to fight the mob at your local library you can now fill out your forms on-line for free.  There are no income limitations for this service. Here is the link you need: Free File Fillable Forms. Using these forms, you must do all the work like the old days, but the forms are filled out and submitted on-line to help speed your refund.

Security Note: Unless your an olde-timer and use the snail mail or purchase on load your own software all other options require entrusting your financial information, Social Security number and other details to a third party.

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photo by alancleaver

4 comments to How To File Taxes – Let Me Count The Ways

  • I guess we’re showing our age when we can say we remember when you had to do everything by hand and snail mail. I’m with you, Turbo Tax is my software of choice lately although I’ve used Tax Cut in the past and find both programs to be equally good. I bought Turbo Tax 2 years ago because they bribed me with a 1 gig thumb drive and were $5 cheaper, now I continue to buy their software because I can import all the info from the previous year. I’d be curious to hear if anyone has a good reason to use one or the other because I haven’t committed to either software yet. My return is going to be complicated for the online and free versions, so I guess it’s down to Turbo Tax or Tax Cut.
    .-= David @ MBA briefs´s last blog ..Do positions of power corrupt people or attract people who are already corrupt? =-.

  • Lots of good options here Coach. I am hoping this is the last year that my return will be so complicated that I need a professional, as I no longer own any property. We will see. Tax preparation is expensive, but I didn’t trust my math skills with multiple investment properties as well as a couple of businesses.
    .-= Tracy´s last blog ..Money Saving Tips That Happen To Be Green =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    David – Yes, I am old. Just ask my kids! I’ve got no experience with Tax Cut but I was reminded last night when I started doing my taxes why I am sold on TT… It’s deductible. It rocks!

    @Tracy – hmmm not sure which is better, having the need to hire someone or a simple and potentially less profitable ability to do the taxes myself? Personally, I would still do the taxes myself… I think?

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