Congress, unwittingly (insert your own joke) or not, has helped keep the tax preparer business alive by continually changing the tax code.
And we're not talking just small tweaks. Some of the modified and new tax laws are outrageously complicated, by design as well as due to unintended consequences.
Just look at the Affordable Care Act tax issues that taxpayers and tax pros alike are wrestling with for the first time this filing season.
Turning to a pro: Even if tax software can do the job of filling out our 1040s and all those associated forms, schedules and worksheets, lots of us still turn to paid preparers for help.
Admit it. Yelling at your computer is just not as satisfying as getting an explanation from a real person who shares your filing frustration.
The first step is finding the tax preparer who best fits your needs. One part of that search is the cost of such professional help.
Tax preparation costs: Exactly what are you willing to pay for paid tax filing help?
The National Society of Accountants, or NSA (Note that this acronym is for the good tax guys and gals, not the federal agency Edward Snowden hacked.), periodically surveys its members to get an idea of the average cost of preparing many types of tax returns.
The latest findings? Taxpayers looking to hire a professional to complete their 2014 tax return can expect to pay an average of $273 for an itemized Form 1040 with Schedule A and a state tax return. That's $12 more than last year's charge.
Tax pro return on investment: I can hear the intake of breath across the Internet. But before you run out to by tax software (which is fine for lots of folks), take a minute to consider what you're getting for your money.
The surveyed NSA members represented local, Main Street tax and accounting firms with an average of more than 26 years of experience. Pay attention to that last word. Experience.
There's a lot to be said for folks who've gutted it up for a quarter century or more of Internal Revenue Code changes. They are committed. And they're there, face to face, to ask you the questions that will help complete your tax return thoroughly and correctly.
Remember, too, that the $273 is for the long Form 1040, Schedule A itemized deductions and a state tax return. Most taxpayers don't itemize. They claim the standard deduction. That average cost is $159. And you still get help in determining other tax breaks, such as the adjustments to income known as above-the-line deductions, and credits you can claim to reduce your tax bill.
And if you do itemize, the cost of tax filing help is a deductible miscellaneous expense.
Regional price differences: And note that your tax preparation price may vary pending on where you live.
The NSA analyzed fees and services by state and geographic region. As the map below shows, those paid preparer charges range from $348 in the Pacific Northwest to $198 in parts of the Midwest.
What's your price point? So, taxpayers, tell us, are you paying a tax preparer for help with your taxes this year? What is his or her fee? If you're just thinking about hiring a tax pro, what would you be willing to pay?
And tax preparers, do your fees align with the averages that NSA found? If you're much cheaper or expensive, let us know why.
Regardless of whether you're paying or collecting tax preparation fees, if you're more comfortable sharing anonymously or using a pseudonym, that's fine as long as your dollar amounts (paying or charging) are legit.
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