Editors' pick: Originally published March 22.
O.K., stating that Americans hate to do taxes, and that they view the tax deadline as the worst date on the calendar, isn't exactly a revelation.
But the bile many Americans show over doing their taxes is likely worse than you think.
Consider WalletHub's 2016 Taxpayer Survey, which contains these gems.
- 27% of taxpayers would get an "IRS" tattoo and 11% would clean Chipotle bathrooms if they could only get a "tax free" future.
- 35% of Americans would rather talk sex with their kids, and 13% would rather spend the night in jail, than face their tax returns.
- Our biggest tax day fear? Math mistakes on our return are 40% scarier than identity theft, survey respondents report.
Still, many U.S. taxpayers prefer to deal with the IRS on their own, without the help and counsel of a tax professional.
According to 2015 figures from the IRS, 50 million Americans filed their 2014 federal tax returns by themselves. "20% of the taxpayers we surveyed find accountants to be overpriced, which might be the reason why so many Americans end up doing their own taxes," says Jill Gonzalez, senior analyst with WalletHub. "Even still, 40% more are afraid of making a math mistake rather than watching out for identity theft."
There is a rational school of thought that says you wouldn't pull your own teeth, or fly a plane cross country for a business meeting, without professional help. That argument doesn't fly with those 50 million do-it-yourself taxpayers.
So, if you want to prepare and file your taxes alone, at least take some tips from tax professionals to get the job done right, accurately and with all the legal deductions and tax breaks you can get.
"Start with the basics," advises Andrew Goldberg, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based tax attorney with over 25 years of experience who prepares his own tax return. "Get a red rope folder with manila folder inside labeled 'income, deductions, etc.' Then, start completing your tax return systematically. In doing so, find time when you won't be distracted, and when you have energy."
Goldberg is a big fan of using online tools that make the tax preparation process more user friendly. "Use Turbo Tax -- it's so cheap and it will avoid math mistakes," he says. "After you're done, have a trusted friend or family member double-check your return, and review prior year tax return to make sure you didn't miss a recurring item."
Crystal Stranger, EA, president of 1st Tax, a Honolulu-based tax services firm, and the author of The Small Business Tax Guide, says she can understand a consumer's desire to do their own taxes.
"I get it," she says. "I've always been a do it yourself person and hate to hand over authority to someone unknown, especially if I've had a bad experience before. Taxes though, are much more challenging than they appear on the surface. The laws in this field change so quickly that even for professionals it's tough to keep up with all the new guidance and rule changes."
If your mind is made up and you're plowing ahead, anyway, Stranger advises looking at your last year's return and compare with the forms received this year. "If everything is the same and you have not had any major changes such as new jobs, marriage or divorce, education, buying a house, then you may be able to self-prepare. But if anything has changed, seek out professional help before preparing your return," she says.
Know the risks going into a self-tax preparation experience, too -- you may be losing more money by turning your back on professional help. "Many consumers try to save money by preparing their own taxes, but they don't realize what they are saving on the front end in tax preparation fees, they are losing on the back end in their tax refund," notes Andrew Poulos, principal of Poulos Accounting & Consulting, Inc. in Atlanta.
Plus, in going solo, you might be playing right into Uncle Sam's hands.
"The IRS loves when consumers file their own taxes and don't take all the deductions and tax credits that they are eligible for from taxes," Poulos adds. "That is money the government gets to keep and it happens with millions of consumers who self-prepare their tax return."
One more reason to get professional help with your taxes, and it's a significant one. The biggest group of audits the IRS conducts each year is from self-prepared tax returns. "Consumers who want to prepare their own tax return to save a few hundred dollars should ask themselves, 'Is it worth saving a few hundred to lose on your refund, or spend thousands for audit representation?'" Poulos says.
The takeaway from connecting with numerous tax experts on do-it-yourself tax campaigns is this -- proceed at your own peril, and strongly consider getting professional help.
Because your kids really don't want to talk to you about sex, either.