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Your Options in Form 1040 Tax Preparers

A CPA in Wilmington NC discusses tax preparation software and chains

Gary Bode, CPA: if you become frustrated during self tax preparation, please consider giving us a call at (910) 399-2705

For partnership and corporate tax returns, most companies turn to CPAs as their tax preparers.  Let’s look at your choices for preparing Form 1040 if your tax preparation needs are basic to moderate.

Self Preparation: stand alone Intuit’s TurboTax

TurboTax is still probably the main self preparation tax software.  It allows e-Filing for fast tax refunds.  Internal calculations prevent math errors, major triggers for tax audits.  Just don’t manually over ride any field!  A QuickBooks family member by the way.  Sold at Wal-Mart.  The interview mode is excellent for simpler returns and “talks” you through common tax situations like a CPA does. It is professional level tax preparation software that exceeds the limitations of the interview component, if the tax preparer skill and knowledge exists. It boasted early integration with QuickBooks, which helped its market penetration.  “Error checking” and “Final Review” are CPA like features. It is relatively inexpensive and can be used for multiple tax returns, like doing your folk’s taxes in addition to yours, but, watch out for that State return additional pricing.  Like QuickBooks, it has multiple versions.  Support is frustrating, it really is self preparation.  Additional services like tax audit representation and refund loans probably should be avoided. 

Online Self Preparation

Self tax preparers readily engaged with the Internet.  Again, TurboTax is a major player.  But here you get a chance to try your tax preparation before paying for it. You pay when you E File or Print. 

The chains have their online versions out too.  At least H&R Block and Liberty do.  Jackson-Hewitt can’t be far behind.  Mr. Hewitt was a major player at H&R Block (but no, not the H) and left supposedly when they lagged at computer based tax preparation.  He went on to become the Hewett in Jackson-Hewitt.  And then wrote Liberty’s tax preparation software too.  The chains have to rely on rock solid software, because their quality of tax preparer varies.  More on that below.  So maybe online chain software is the way to go – you’re probably getting the same software and expertise as the retail outlets, and it has to be cheaper.

If you find your confidence fading during self tax preparation, please consider calling us at (910) 399-2705.  We’re a Wilmington NC CPA firm offering bookkeeping, QuickBooks training, accounting services, payroll tax accounting, small business tax preparation, and Form 1040 tax preparation.

Retail Chains

These are ubiquitous at tax season.  Zip Zap, Jackson Hewitt, Liberty and H&R Block predominate in Wilmington NC.  Their key attributes are: 

  • Near by availability.  Even Wallace NC has three chains! 
  • E-Filing.
  • No appointment needed.  Walk in. 
  • Fast turnaround. Walk out with your return filed. 
  • Rapid tax refunds.  Rapid Anticipation Loans appeal to many folks.  But at over 100% APR that puts even credit cards to shame.  The IRS shut these down in 2011 by refusing to release tax payer information, the “guarantee”, the RAL provider require.

Chains, like Liberty, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt generally recruit tax preparers seasonally through “free” tax schools in the Fall.  But there usually is a charge for books.  $100 in the case of Liberty this year.  And the books are about 50% IRS, non copyrighted, material.  The 2010 Liberty books are all based on 2009 data, but the course is well designed.  While the class material presents an overall good presentation of individual tax preparation, sometimes only the first half of the course material is actually presented, probably at the discretion of the franchise chain owners.  These tax preparers generally make minimum wage with a small commission paid at the end of the season IF certain conditions are met IE the tax preparer may have to stay employed for the entire season.  Keeping them part time means no benefits have to be paid.  Turnover is high every year.  So again, here you’re relying on the chain’s tax software, not expertise of the tax preparer. This year the IRS recognized this level of tax preparers are the most problematic and instituted a basic competency test.  Now each preparer has to have their own ID number, probably to track the worst offenders.  No such requirements were made for CPAs, enrolled agents or attorney tax preparers.  Again online tax preparation is cheaper, and the level of tax software is the same, and, quality of tax preparer (you) may be as good as the chains.

Chains are as expensive as CPAs in many cases.  And their pricing changes during the season.  So, to us, it seems predatory.  But usually you can walk out without paying, if you don’t like the result.  I think CPAs get some of these simpler returns because folks recognize the limitation of their other options.  But we CPAs usually ask for more documentation and aren’t as fast with the turn around.

Rapid Anticipation Loans

A significant revenue stream for all the above tax preparer vendors are the RALs.  Even some CPAs.  Here tax refunds can sometimes be generated in an hour, less tax preparation fees and loan fees.  Again, President Obama recognized these as potentially predatory and subjected them to new regulations in 2010.  Really, with direct deposit into your checking account in about 10 days, through E Filing, RALs are almost always a poor choice for folks with a checking account.

If you need a free initial consult with a Wilmington NC CPA tax preparer, feel free to contact us at (910) 399-2705.