Oh, it’s that wonderful time of year again — no, not Christmas: tax season. Rather than the smell of pine and tinsel, U.S. readers will now be surrounded by the smell of paper and pencil, punctuated by romantic sounds like suppressed coughs and loud curses as the number still won’t add up, no matter what you do. Cloudwards.net will try and make things easier for you, however, with our selection of the best tax software for 2018.
Any U.S. resident who has done his taxes more than once before will tell you that it is, quite simply put, a bitch to file them, no matter which state you live in. Even people who can use the EZ filing system — yes, that’s pronounced as “easy” — will have a tough time figuring out whether they qualify or not, though the actual filing is indeed pretty easy.
However, if you live in a state that collects personal income taxes, if you have more than one job, are an entrepreneur, own real estate or basically do anything than have a single, not-great paid job, you’re going to have to employ some actual gray cells and the resultant paperwork will not be pretty.
Below you’ll find several options for filing your taxes, some of them more independently than others, though in all cases we assume that you’re doing (part of) your own books using any of our best accounting software options. Even if just to shave costs, doing your books in the cloud is a good idea, which will give you greater control over your finances as well as making you feel really professional.
Doing Your Taxes Yourself
It has to be said: the Internal Revenue Service has made some strides the past few years in making it easier to file your own taxes. However, they are limited by the constraints of tax legislation itself, which in the U.S. is rather byzantine to say the least. Right now, if your financial situation isn’t too complicated, you can file a 1040A or 1040EZ yourself, which shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.
However, if you don’t meet the requirements linked above, you’re going to need to file a regular 1040, plus whatever addenda your situation requires. If this is the case, you’re going to have to go to a proper tax preparer or chartered public accountant, about which we’ll talk a little more later.
Thing is, actually doing your taxes yourself is very tricky unless you know what you’re doing. The forms themselves are a complete mess and require an advanced degree to understand. This means that even in the best case scenario, you want to consider using an online tax preparation firm like TurboTax or FreeTaxUSA.
Of the two, TurboTax carries our recommendation as it is an Intuit product. Intuit is behind several excellent financial programs, including our favorite online accounting software, QuickBooks Online (we have a QuickBooks Online review for your perusal).
TurboTax is efficient, cheap and integrates well with QB Online, meaning that people with very basic streams of income will be able to file themselves. In fact, TurboTax is also used by many tax preparers, simply because it’s such a pleasure to use.
Having Someone Else Do Your Taxes
Which brings us to the next step: if you’re having trouble filing your taxes, or simply have the feeling you’re missing out on rebates and deductions, you may want to take your paperwork over to a tax preparer. Around this time of year there seems to be one on every street corner, so finding one won’t be too hard.
Finding a good one, now that’s tricky. Thing is, it’s pretty easy to set up your own practice in most states, so the licensing is no guarantee the person you’re talking to knows what they’re about. The best thing you can do is simply go out on Yelp or ask around to find a good one, unless you want to go up a step and get a CPA to do your taxes for you.
The downside to that of course is that these professionals do not come cheap. Even the most basic tax return will set you back some serious money, though this generally does mean that it is done correctly: CPA licensing boards are very serious about their job and the unqualified will find themselves turned away quick by the second-hardest set of exams in the U.S. (the bar exam is generally considered to be a smidge harder in most states).
Another option is to go with a big-name tax preparation firm like H&R Block, which will quickly and efficiently do your taxes for you, though some people complain that it feels very impersonal and that the tax preparers there spend little time working on the individual details of a case. This often leads to special circumstances getting overlooked, which for some could be a problem.
Generally speaking, people that opt for using a CPA are happier with their choice: sure, it costs a few extra bucks, but not only do you get personalized advice, he will also help you set up a personal tax plan, help you map out your finances and advise you if you ever get into trouble with the IRS.
Then again, using a CPA is simply out of the reach of some and if you’re lucky your personal situation will allow you to file on your own through TurboTax. If that’s not the case, we hope you can find a good preparer to help you, check who your friends and family work with.
There you have it, a quick overview of the best tax software or, rather, the best way to file your taxes in 2018. The U.S. system is pretty complicated, sorrowfully enough, meaning that, unlike in many EU countries, for example, it’s hard to file independently unless you fall into a very narrow class of people.
Have you filed your taxes without using a tax preparer or CPA? How did that go for you? Please let us know your experiences in the comments below. Thank you for reading and good luck this tax season.