Filing Recommendations for 2009

Filing Recommendations for 2011

Best ways to file your returns

By Kaye A. Thomas
Posted January 31, 2011

(page 2 of 2)

Tax return software

Some people like to use software to prepare their return but aren't comfortable preparing the return online. If you want to install high quality tax software on your computer, you can buy it from one of the providers that sell it online or in stores — or download it free from TaxACT. Yes, in addition to offering free online tax return preparation and filing, they offer software you can install on your Windows computer, free of charge. As in the case of their online service, you don't have to be concerned that this is a poor product because it's free. They're offering high quality in the hope you'll buy their other products (enhanced versions or state tax returns), which are a bargain compared with other offerings.

We haven't run comparisons among the software offerings this year, but in the past TaxACT has been comparable to the more expensive offerings of other top companies.

Using a professional preparer

Finally, here are some recommendations for those who want to hire a professional to prepare their tax returns.

  • Choosing a well-known, nationally branded name does not assure you of excellent service. In fact, this is an area where there seems to be an inverse relationship between the size of the firm and the quality of the service. Look for a local firm with a good reputation and people who do tax work throughout the year instead of just during tax season.
  • There's some debate whether you're better off going to a CPA (certified public accountant) or EA (enrolled agent). Both are strong credentials generally requiring a passing grade on a tough exam and continuing education on new developments, so you should feel comfortable with either type of professional. In most states, people with no credentials at all can offer services as a professional tax return preparer. Some of these people do a fine job, but I'm inclined to recommend going to a CPA or EA.
  • Save yourself time and money by gathering all relevant information and organizing it as well as possible before bringing it to a tax professional. It's a waste of everyone's time when the tax pro has to sort through a box of miscellaneous receipts, or contact you for additional numbers. If this is your first time seeing this tax professional, it's a big help if you bring a copy of the previous year's tax return — or preferably, returns for the last three years.