Should you pay to file your taxes?

As this year’s tax deadline approaches, you may be wondering about the best way to file. Should you save money by completing your returns yourself and possibly risk a mistake (and losing out on a bigger refund); or should you pay a professional tax preparer to ensure you get everything that’s owed to you?

The answer depends on your particular circumstances. Keep in mind that as your tax situation becomes more complex, the filing becomes more difficult and, if you go with a professional, more expensive.

To help you make up your mind, let’s look at your options:

DIY (aka, the free option)
For those who treasure the feeling of doing something yourself versus outsourcing the work, completing your own return may be for you. The benefits include a sense of accomplishment, control over your own situation, and privacy. The IRS website lets you file for free, but unlike other online tax preparation services, it offers minimal guidance.

Recommended for: people with few deductions who feel confident completing tax forms without help.

Online services
Online tax preparation websites have become very popular. Resources like these guide filers through their return, offering clear instructions and help along the way. The cost is also cheaper than hiring a preparer. And, like free filing with the IRS, you can do it from your computer, pause your progress, and finish when it’s convenient.

Recommended for: people who are comfortable using filing software, and have a relatively simple tax situation.

A traditional tax professional or accountant
This is by far the most expensive option—for a good reason. Professionals do all of the work for you. All you have to do is provide the necessary paperwork and receipts. Plus, you get peace of mind knowing your taxes are handled properly, and you increase your chances of maximizing your refund.

How much can you expect to pay? Reportedly, tax preparers charge an average of $273 per return if you want to itemize deductions. It’s about a hundred dollars less if you take the standard deduction.

Recommended for: people who are short on time, need additional assistance, or have a complicated filing.

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