Tax Prep Could Be More Expensive This Year. How Experts Say You Can Save and Still Maximize Your Return

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Tax season costs quickly add up — on top of any taxes you might owe, tax prep can be costly and time-consuming. 

And that’s before you add in the challenges of another unconventional tax season this year, with experts warning many American taxpayers to expect delays and filing complications when they file. 

Many tax preparers may charge more this year to account for tax changes in response to the pandemic and compliance responsibilities, says Michele Cagan, CPA, founder of Single Mom CPA and author of “Debt 101.” 

Depending on how complex your return is, you may also need to decide between filing yourself using online tax software or working with a tax professional. Either way, the costs can add up quickly. 

Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can save money on your taxes without missing out on any credits or tax breaks you may qualify for. Here are a few expert tips to help you spend less time and money on filing this year, and some resources to help you get started filing your return before the April 18 deadline. 

Organize Your Tax Documents Ahead of Time 

You can save time and money by doing some of the prep yourself. Cagan says tax preparers’ rates sometimes depend on how much work and time it takes to figure out your expenses, earnings, and other tax information. If a tax preparer has to sort through piles of documents, the charge will likely be more. 

It’s best to organize your documents by category — such as your children or other dependents, business expenses, and retirement and investment accounts — before you meet or share your documents. You may also want to separate your income, expenses, and receipts for credits for your tax preparer to find quickly. 

Pro Tip

Create an IRS account before preparing your taxes, which has all of the information that third parties, including employers, have sent to the IRS about money you earned. This information can help you accurately prepare your return and reduce errors that you may otherwise have to pay for tax preparers to correct.

Figure Out What Type of Tax Prep You Need

Differently-certified tax preparers may charge varying prices for their services. There are generally two types of preparers you’ll see most often: EAs and CPAs. An enrolled agent (EA) is an IRS-authorized tax professional who focuses on tax filing, audits, and appeals. A certified public accountant (CPA) is state-licensed and can assist with a broader range of financial topics — including accounting, financial planning, and tax prep. 

Both can give advice, review your documents, and file your tax return, says Joshua Giminez, CPA, founder of Fair Winds Tax & Financial in Columbus, Ohio. But EAs can be more affordable, and if you have a problem with your return, an EA can review your tax return thoroughly for errors, and keep an eye out for tax law changes. A CPA can also review your return, but is better equipped to work with you long-term on tax planning. They can help with financial planning, tax deductions, and accounting details.

If you’re not sure how to find a tax pro in your area, databases like the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers, as well as IRS-partnered professional organizations like the National Association of Enrolled Agents or the American Institute of CPAs, can help you find licensed professionals, and you can sort by specialty. And if you’re using tax software and want to upgrade to its tax professional services, pricing is typically determined based on how much assistance you’re looking for — rather than specifically choosing an EA or CPA.

But remember, these are general comparisons. There’s usually no standard cost for tax professionals — it largely depends on your individual tax situation. Make sure you take time to review your tax documents and financial situation to better understand which type of professional may better fit your needs and budget.  

Use a Tax Pro for Review Only

If you’re familiar with tax rules and filing, Giminez also recommends completing your return yourself, then seeking out a tax professional for review. During a tax return review, you can expect the expert to double check your calculations and all forms before filing. Tax pros usually charge less for review than for preparing the entire return. 

Some tax software programs, like H&R Block, may also offer expert review as an add-on option when you use their self-filing services. 

But if your tax return is complicated, it may be worthwhile to hire someone — especially given the complicated circumstances taxpayers and professionals are facing this year. For instance, maybe you bought a home, received advance Child Tax Credit payments, or need to report new cryptocurrency investments. Each of these events could change the credits and deductions you qualify for, which a professional can help you maximize.

“If you don’t know the right answer or you don’t check the right box — or you don’t know there’s a credit you’re eligible for, so you don’t activate that part of the tax return — you’re not going to get it,” says Cagan. 

Use IRS Free File 

If you qualify, and you have a relatively simple return, your best option may be to file using IRS Free File. You may qualify for free federal and state filing with an adjusted gross income of less than $73,000, plus guided tax preparation to figure all of your expenses. Here’s what the IRS says you’ll need: 

  • A copy of last year’s tax return to show your adjusted gross income
  • The Social Security numbers for yourself, spouse, and dependents 
  • Proof of income and receipts — such as unemployment income and child care receipts
  • W-2s, 1099s, and other forms for proof of income 

How to Save on Tax Prep Software 

If you plan to use online tax software, there are plenty of deals to look for before you file — including credit card offers. We recently reached out to several credit card issuers and cash back sites, and compiled all the currently available offers and deals to help you save on tax prep and filing

Keep in mind that these offers can be targeted, and may expire before Tax Day. Some require accessing a tax software site through your credit card account or the issuer’s affiliate website to get the offer. Some credit card deals also may be targeted based on your previous spending, card account, or location. Read the terms carefully before you enroll, so you know exactly how to maximize your card offer.

Additional Free Tax Prep and Filing Resources

You might also be able to find great tax prep help and savings from nonprofit organizations and government resources that are available for free or low cost to qualifying taxpayers and underserved communities. Here are a few free resources available to help you file your taxes:

  • AARP Foundation Tax-Aide: Free in-person and virtual tax assistance or tax coaching for older adults with low-to-middle income levels. 
  • IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA): Free tax prep assistance for self-filing taxpayers. Those who make less than $58,000, people with disabilities, or taxpayers with limited English proficiency may qualify. 
  • IRS Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE): Free tax assistance for those 60 and older who have questions about retirement, pensions, and other topics specifically relating to seniors.
  • Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC): Assistance for those with low income looking to resolve tax disputes (such as audits or appeals) with the IRS. Help is also available for people who speak English as a second language. 
  • My Free Taxes: Tax assistance launched by United Way to help taxpayers file their federal and state taxes for free. Options are available for assistance with self-filing or working with a tax preparer.
  • Taxpayer Advocate Service: An independent organization within the IRS to help taxpayers resolve tax problems, filing returns, and interacting with the IRS. The service is available for those facing financial hardship.