Can’t Find a Tax Preparer Because You Procrastinated? Here’s What to Do

find-tax-preparer

For whatever reason this year, you haven’t filed your personal tax return and now you’re pushing up against the deadline. And all the tax preparers you’ve reached out to are booked solid. If you can’t or don’t want to do your taxes yourself, you’re running out of options … or are you?

Here are four ways to get your 2015 taxes filed on time.

1. Cast a Wider Net

Even if you think you’ve contacted every tax preparer in town, you might’ve missed one or two or 10. Widen your search using the IRS’s public directory of tax return preparers. You can use this tool to help you select a tax return preparer with the credentials and qualifications that you prefer, and hopefully the availability you need.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants also offers a list of all the state CPA member organizations, which often can connect you with a local CPA who might be able to help you file.

2. Use a Tax Preparation Software

The IRS offers free software to help you file your taxes, but that requires you to actually know how to file your taxes yourself. Some of the same companies that work with the IRS to provide free tax software also offer inexpensive paid online filing for those who don’t qualify for free filing.

3. File for an Extension

If you’ve waited this long, why not just push that filing deadline back to October? This year, you can if you file Form 4868 before April 18 (you can file your extension electronically right on the IRS website). Just keep in mind that an extension to file is not an extension to pay, so if you think you owe taxes, you’ll need to estimate and pay those by April 18.

4. Seek Free Guidance

As harrowing as it might seem, you really can do your own taxes, and the whole process of doing them could take you only a handful of hours, so it might just be time to bite the bullet and get them done. If you’re new to doing your own taxes, or have a more complicated return this year and need some guidance, you can often find resources at your local library and even at universities and colleges. Give them a call and see if they can help.

And if you make less than $54,000 annually or are aged 65 or older, you can qualify for free tax preparation assistance from the IRS.

Remember, owing the IRS a big tax bill doesn’t automatically affect your credit, but how, when and if you choose to pay your taxes does. When considering how to pay your taxes, you may want to give your credit scores a look. You can see two credit scores for free each month on Credit.com, and the information may help you determine whether you can afford adding to your debt load or if you can qualify for a personal loan to help you pay your taxes.

More on Income Tax:

Image: macniak

The post Can’t Find a Tax Preparer Because You Procrastinated? Here’s What to Do appeared first on Credit.com.

Can’t Find a Tax Preparer Because You Procrastinated? Here’s What to Do

find-tax-preparer

For whatever reason this year, you haven’t filed your personal tax return and now you’re pushing up against the deadline. And all the tax preparers you’ve reached out to are booked solid. If you can’t or don’t want to do your taxes yourself, you’re running out of options … or are you?

Here are four ways to get your 2015 taxes filed on time.

1. Cast a Wider Net

Even if you think you’ve contacted every tax preparer in town, you might’ve missed one or two or 10. Widen your search using the IRS’s public directory of tax return preparers. You can use this tool to help you select a tax return preparer with the credentials and qualifications that you prefer, and hopefully the availability you need.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants also offers a list of all the state CPA member organizations, which often can connect you with a local CPA who might be able to help you file.

2. Use a Tax Preparation Software

The IRS offers free software to help you file your taxes, but that requires you to actually know how to file your taxes yourself. Some of the same companies that work with the IRS to provide free tax software also offer inexpensive paid online filing for those who don’t qualify for free filing.

3. File for an Extension

If you’ve waited this long, why not just push that filing deadline back to October? This year, you can if you file Form 4868 before April 18 (you can file your extension electronically right on the IRS website). Just keep in mind that an extension to file is not an extension to pay, so if you think you owe taxes, you’ll need to estimate and pay those by April 18.

4. Seek Free Guidance

As harrowing as it might seem, you really can do your own taxes, and the whole process of doing them could take you only a handful of hours, so it might just be time to bite the bullet and get them done. If you’re new to doing your own taxes, or have a more complicated return this year and need some guidance, you can often find resources at your local library and even at universities and colleges. Give them a call and see if they can help.

And if you make less than $54,000 annually or are aged 65 or older, you can qualify for free tax preparation assistance from the IRS.

Remember, owing the IRS a big tax bill doesn’t automatically affect your credit, but how, when and if you choose to pay your taxes does. When considering how to pay your taxes, you may want to give your credit scores a look. You can see two credit scores for free each month on Credit.com, and the information may help you determine whether you can afford adding to your debt load or if you can qualify for a personal loan to help you pay your taxes.

More on Income Tax:

Image: macniak

The post Can’t Find a Tax Preparer Because You Procrastinated? Here’s What to Do appeared first on Credit.com.

Best Tax Software of 2016 to Save Money

Tax return check

It’s tax season, and if you’re like most people, you’re dreading it. Gathering all your paperwork, crossing all your t’s, dotting your i’s, and forking over a bunch of money to your accountant might make receiving a refund look less attractive.

However, filing earlier is better. The longer you wait, the higher your risk of identify fraud is, and the more expensive tax preparation software gets. The good news is if your tax situation is simple, there are plenty of ways to take control of filing your taxes, and for less money!

Do you only need to file a 1040? Then you’re in luck. The IRS has approved a number of tax preparation software for free federal filing, provided your adjusted gross income meets the requirements.

Need something with a bit more detail? We’re taking a look at the top five tax preparation software, and comparing all the different packages to figure out which is the best deal.

What Makes Tax Preparation Software Great?

There are plenty of options out there to choose from when it comes to tax preparation software, and the pricing is often tricky to navigate. Trickier than it needs to be, anyway. That’s where we come in. We’re breaking down all the costs and fees and giving you a straight recommendation on which tax software to choose.

The following criteria are what we were on the lookout for when choosing each:

  1. Price: Base prices, prices to file a state return, and prices to file a federal return (when applicable)
  2. Cost of add-ons: Are different tax forms, such as Schedule A’s, E’s, and D’s more money?
  3. Customer service availability: Filing your taxes can still be a complicated process. It helps to have a representative to call for free with any questions you have.
  4. How payment is received: Most people prefer to receive their refund electronically, but some companies offer pre-paid debit cards.
  5. Is audit help available after filing? In case you find yourself getting audited by the IRS, it helps to have professionals on your side.
  6. Importing prior returns: Having the ability to import your prior returns is great if your situation hasn’t changed much as it cuts down on the amount of time it takes to file.

For the purposes of this article, we’re covering details that matter to an average family with two income earners, who have dependents, and aren’t business owners in any way.

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Before you go through this guide, you can also go to the IRS website to see what software is recommended for you so you have a starting point. You’ll also get information on which one you qualify with to file for free.

Before you jump to an online tax preparation software option, see if you can file for free

Before you get started, double-check to see if you qualify for free filing. This could include:

  • If you make less than $100,000 and can file with a 1040EZ
  • You’re 60 years of age or older with low to moderate income
  • You have an AGI of $62,000 or less
  • You have an AGI of $54,000 or less, are disabled or have limited English

Check all your options here.

Self-employed? Then find your best options here.

Learn about free tax filing for for every state online here.

Best for Low Cost, No Frills: FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA

 

 

FreeTaxUSA emphasizes its straightforward pricing. It offers the basics for less, without all the bells and whistles. It’s a decent tax preparation software if you’re used to filing your own taxes, but the website itself isn’t very user-friendly. Its FAQ database isn’t presented well, so it may take a bit longer to find the answers you need. That said, if price is your top concern, it’s worth considering.

Price

FreeTaxUSA has its services divided into two categories: free and deluxe. Free is free for the most part, although you’ll pay $12.95 to file a state return on either plan. However, it doesn’t matter how complicated your tax situation is – you’ll pay the same no matter what.

The deluxe plan is only an extra $5.95, and it includes a few more options detailed below.

Cost of add-ons

While FreeTaxUSA has an affordable “base” price, there are a few add-ons you can choose if you need to. You’ll pay $9.95 for an amended return under the free plan, and it’s included in the deluxe plan.

You can also pay $5.95 for priority customer support on the free plan, though it comes included in the deluxe plan. Paying $5.95 to upgrade to deluxe makes sense if you want access to live chat and audit assist as well.

Customer service

Free unlimited customer support is offered for the free plan. Priority customer support with the deluxe plan means going to the “front of the line” whenever you have a question, and the live chat is available during tax season every weekday from 9AM-9PM ET.

How you can receive payment

You can receive your tax refund via direct deposit or check.

Audit Support/Guarantees

FreeTaxUSA only offers audit support to those who purchase the deluxe plan, but this doesn’t provide you with hands-on help like some of the audit services offered by other companies. Instead, you can speak with an audit specialist who can address your notice and provide you with information on how to rectify it.

It doesn’t look like FreeTaxUSA offers a maximum refund guarantee, but it does offer an Accuracy Guarantee. If there are any miscalculations on your tax return, it will reimburse you for any penalties and interest incurred. You have to write to FreeTaxUSA within 45 days of the error being discovered to get this reimbursement, though.

Importing prior returns

If you have filed a tax return with FreeTaxUSA previously, you can import the information over for free.

Overall Verdict

FreeTaxUSA is a good, no-frills budget option for those who are first-time filers, those with simple tax situations, or those who don’t need as much guidance in filing their taxes. If you found yourself overwhelmed at the number of packages available with other tax preparation software, FreeTaxUSA provides a less complicated solution.

Best No Frills and Easy to Use: TaxSlayer

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 4.39.01 PM

 

 

TaxSlayer might not be a household name, but its tax software has been in use since 1998. It claims to have helped prepare millions of returns for Americans and started off as a family-owned tax preparation business. The website is very user friendly and modern compared to some of the other choices.

Price

Unlike other tax preparation companies, TaxSlayer only offers online products, making it easy to compare each:

  • Free basic edition: You can electronically file a 1040 EZ return for free, although the state return costs $23.99 for the first return, and $14.99 for each additional state
  • Classic edition: $12.99, and the state return costs $14.99
  • Premium edition: $34.99, and the state return also costs $14.99

Cost of add-ons

There’s not a huge difference between what’s offered for each edition. The biggest difference is in the level of support each receives.

As a classic edition user, you have the ability to import your return from the prior year, and to compare that return to your current one.

Going premium gives you priority access to customer support in the form of chat and jumping ahead in the phone lines.

As you can see on the comparison page, both the classic and premium edition comes with “all major forms,” which are listed here.

Customer service

The basic plan includes free email support and live phone support, which is nice to see. Live chat and “ask a tax professional” is only offered for the premium edition.

How you can receive payment

You can receive your refund via direct deposit or check. In some cases, you can have your state refund put on a pre-paid debit card.

Audit Support/Guarantees

TaxSlayer offers a guaranteed maximum refund, in which they’ll refund you the purchase price you paid if you get a larger refund using another tax preparation software.

It also guarantees its calculations, and will reimburse you for federal or state penalties and interest charges.

However, audit assistance is only available to those who purchase the premium edition.

Importing prior returns

TaxSlayer only allows classic and premium users to import prior tax returns filed with TaxSlayer.

Overall Verdict

One drawback to TaxSlayer is that it’s not supported in every state, so check to see if you can file by using this map from its website.

Other than that, its product offerings are fairly straightforward. If you don’t think you need much guidance and don’t have a complicated tax situation, choose the free edition. If you need a little extra support, go with classic, and if you want to get the best level of support, choose premium.

Read full TaxSlayer review here.

Best Options for Audit Protection: TurboTax and H&R Block

It’s a fairly low probability you’d be picked by the IRS to get audited, especially with straight-forward taxes. However, if you still feel the need to pay for the extra protection, and recognize you will pay a premium for the service, these are your best options.

TurboTax

 

 

Most people have heard of TurboTax as it’s one of the larger giants out there. If you’ve been a customer for the past few years, you might remember the confusion surrounding its pricing in 2015.

There are a lot of layers to the product offerings, and there are four different packages to choose from for both online and CD products. Let’s look at each.

Price

These prices are for TurboTax’s online products:

  • The federal free version allows you to file state and federal for free if you’re filing a 1040EZ/A
  • The deluxe version is $34.99 (down from $54.99)
  • The premier version is $54.99 (down from $79.99)
  • The home & business version is $79.99 (down from $104.99), but this is primarily for business owners

Note that filing with the state is an additional $36.99 across the board (aside from the free version).

These are the prices if you want to buy the CD product:

  • Basic: $29.99
  • Deluxe: $59.99
  • Premier: $89.99
  • Home & Business: $99.99

For the basic plan, filing with the state is an extra $39.99, and if you want to file electronically, it’s an additional $19.99.

For all other CD plans, one state file is included. Additional states are $39.99, and e-files are still an additional $19.99. You can file an unlimited amount of federal tax returns, and you can e-file up to 5 federal returns for free.

Cost of add-ons

There’s a $20 difference between the deluxe and premier version of TurboTax – is it worth paying for?

As you can see on the pricing page, the premier package offers investments and rental property income, whereas deluxe doesn’t. If rental property isn’t something you’re concerned with, or if you’re not an active investor, then you’re safe sticking with the deluxe version.

The deluxe version is listed as the most popular. If your tax situation isn’t simple enough to file a 1040EZ/A, or if you want to itemize, or if you have charitable contributions you want to deduct, it’s worth paying for.

Customer service

You can talk to a tax expert as long as you pay for an online TurboTax product. Tax experts aren’t available for those filing with the free federal offering. Within the fine print, it says “fees may apply” when speaking with a tax expert.

Product experts are available for those who purchase CD products.

How you can receive payment

You can choose to get your refund via direct deposit, check, or a pre-paid Visa card.

Audit Support and Guarantees

TurboTax guarantees that you’ll get the maximum refund available to you using its software. If you happen to get a larger or smaller tax amount due by using another preparation method, it will refund you the purchase price you paid. Those using the free version will receive a payment of $14.99 and a refund of the state purchase price paid.

TurboTax will also cover any penalties and interest incurred if there are calculation errors found by the IRS.

Lastly, it offers an Audit Support Guarantee in the form of free year-round audit support guidance from a tax professional.

Importing prior returns

TurboTax allows you to import last year’s tax return if you’ve used TurboTax before, but it will also import information from H&R Block or TaxAct online software.

You can import your W-2 straight from your employer if you have its EIN, or you can take a picture of it and upload it.

Overall Verdict

Make things easier on yourself by choosing an online product. TurboTax says in its FAQ that the CD products are a better value for those filing multiple returns (for family and friends), but if you’re just looking to file for your family, then you’re better off with an online product. The deluxe version is a safe bet for the average family.

Read full TurboTax review here.

H&R Block

 

 

H&R Block is another household name, and it argues that it’s the cheapest software in town – not TaxAct. It has a comparison chart on the main page of its website to illustrate this. Let’s investigate.

Price

For online products:

  • Free: Filing federal taxes is free, though you’ll pay $9.99 to file per state
  • Basic: $24.99, and $36.99 per state
  • Deluxe: $34.99, and $36.99 per state

All online products come with free federal e-file, however, TaxAct’s free plan gives you a free federal and state return, whereas H&R Block’s doesn’t. That said, H&R Block’s free version offers more options.

For downloads:

  • Basic: $19.95, and $39.95 for state
  • Deluxe: $44.95, and $39.95 for state
  • Premium: $64.95, first filing for one state is included

All downloadable software comes with 5 free federal e-files. State e-files are $19.95 each for all versions, though additional state filings are $39.95 each.

Cost of add-ons

H&R Block highlights that it offers the Schedule A form for free on its basic plan, whereas other companies offer it with their plus or deluxe packages.

That’s certainly a highlight, though you might want to consider upgrading from the online free plan to the basic plan if technical support, storage of your tax return, and importing your tax return from last year is important.

The deluxe plan is $10 more, and you get access to mortgage interest deductions as well as reporting investment income, and guidance on how to optimize your taxes with charitable donations.

The downside is reporting rental property income is only available to premium users, and it’s offered at a lower tier elsewhere.

As for downloadable products, the deluxe plan offers the same advantages over the basic plan, although you also get one free state filing.

Consider upgrading to premium if you need a Schedule E for rental property income, or if you received an inheritance this past year.

Customer service

Free technical support and free, unlimited tax advice from an expert is offered across all plans except the free version.

How you can receive payment

You can get your refund via direct deposit, check, or put it on an Emerald Card Prepaid MasterCard.

Audit Support and Guarantees

H&R Block offers a maximum refund guarantee, and if “another online tax preparation method” gives you a larger refund amount, or shows you owe less, it will refund the purchase price of the software.

It also has an Accurate Calculations Guarantee, which means you’ll get reimbursed up to $10,000 if the IRS finds any mathematical errors on your return. H&R Block covers the penalties and interest.

The audit is where H&R Block shines. It offers a free in-person audit consultation if you filed with H&R Block and receive a notice from the IRS.

Importing prior returns

You can import last year’s tax return if you filed with H&R Block, TurboTax, or Quicken.

A Word of Caution With the “Bonus” Refund

H&R Block is running a promotion to get a “bonus 5% or 10%” on top of your refund. A look at the fine print reveals it’s not that simple.

First, you must choose a $100 increment from your federal tax refund to put toward buying an e-gift card. H&R Block will then put an extra 5% or 10% (depending on the software you’re using) toward the purchase of the gift card.

Unfortunately, it’s not a flat bonus. If you’re planning on using your tax refund to pay down debt or increase your savings, you might not benefit from this.

Overall Verdict

H&R Block offers free in-person audit assistance and a Schedule A form on its lower tier. If your tax situation isn’t that complicated, but you want to itemize, H&R Block may be a good solution. If you want to report rental property income or investment gains, then you should look elsewhere.

Read full H&R Block review here.

Best Option to Lock-in Low Filing Price: TaxAct

TaxAct

 

 

TaxAct is another big player in the tax preparation software industry. It also claims to be one of the least expensive options out there. Let’s see what it has to offer.

Price

For online products:

  • Free: Free is free. If you’re filing a 1040 EZ/A, you don’t have to worry about paying for federal or state
  • Basic: $9.99, state is an additional $9.99
  • Plus: $14.99, state is an additional $14.99
  • Premium: $21.99 (usually reserved for self-employed individuals), state is an additional $14.99

For download products:

  • Free: Again, if you have a simple tax situation, you can file your federal taxes for free. You’ll pay an additional $14.99 for each state
  • Basic: $19.99, includes 5 free federal e-files and 1 state return
  • Plus: $29.99, includes 5 free federal e-files and 1 state return
  • Premium: $39.99, includes 5 free federal e-files and 1 state return

There’s also an “all-state” version available for $59.99, but you likely don’t need this unless you moved a lot during the past year, or are filing for multiple people.

If you’re interested in comparing TaxAct to TurboTax and H&R Block at a quick glance, it provides this chart on its website.

Cost of add-ons

For the purpose of this review, we’ll focus on comparing the free, basic, and plus plans.

The only upgrade you get when choosing the basic plan over the free plan is the ability to import last year’s tax return (if you filed with TaxAct). Online users will also get a “Price Lock Guarantee,” which means whatever the price of the product is at the time you begin filing is what you’ll be charged. Prices are known to increase the closer it gets to tax day.

When you upgrade from basic to plus (a $5 increase with online software, or $10 increase with downloadable software), you gain access to Schedule A, D, and E, meaning you can itemize, report gains and losses from investments, and report rental property income. You can also import donations made.

Customer service

If you choose the free option, you’ll have access to free email help. All other plans get access to email and phone support.

How you can receive payment

You can receive your refund via direct deposit, check, or an American Express Serve reload card.

Audit Support and Guarantees

TaxAct guarantees that you’ll receive the largest refund if you file with its software. If you don’t, it will refund you the purchase price of the software. If you’re filing using the free version, you’ll receive $4.99.

To obtain a refund, you’ll have to write to TaxAct within 60 days of filing.

TaxAct also guarantees its calculations, so if the IRS spots an error, TaxAct will pay for it (penalty and interest included).

If you’re audited, TaxAct offers an Audit Assistant website you can use, but you can also email or fax for additional (personal) assistance. It doesn’t make any mention of additional fees for this service.

Importing prior returns:

TaxAct can import last year’s tax return if you filed with TaxAct, though this isn’t available with the free version.

Overall Verdict

TaxAct is certainly one of the cheaper options, and it offers many of the same services as TurboTax and H&R Block. If your tax situation is on the simple side, but not simple enough to file for free, go for the basic or plus online product, or the basic download product.

If you want to itemize deductions and have rental property income or investment information to report, then you should choose the plus version.

Which Should You Pick?

This answer greatly depends on your needs. As we mentioned at the beginning, you can visit the IRS website and fill out a short survey that will point you in the right direction. Most of these companies also offer to guide you to the right product if you select the situations that apply to you.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re a newer filer or recent graduate, you can likely get away with filing on any of the free versions offered (or if you meet the requirements to file for free).

If you’re part of a dual-income family, have dependents, have made charitable contributions, need to itemize, or need a Schedule D or E, the plus or deluxe plans should cover you.

In most cases, you won’t need more than that. The top tier offerings are reserved for those who have businesses or a lot of money being shuffled around. Don’t pay for more when you don’t have to.

Be sure to compare prices carefully if you’re stuck between two companies. As you can see, some include state and federal filings, while others don’t. Not all plans are created equal – TurboTax’s deluxe version may not have the same options as H&R Block’s.

Hopefully you have a better idea of what tax preparation software you should choose. Don’t procrastinate on the decision, though. Remember that prices increase around March, and it’s better to have your money working for you than with the government!

The post Best Tax Software of 2016 to Save Money appeared first on MagnifyMoney.