January 22, 2004
Need a hand filling out that 1040 EZ form? No one's snickering. Even the IRS estimates that it takes the average taxpayer about 13 hours to fill it out its simplest form.
Do you need a helping hand figuring out your return? If you had unusual gains or decreases in income, or a boost in assets via inheritance, or some other windfall (reality TV riches, anyone?), you might want to consider getting a pro's input.
Those who own a business or are self-employed may also need help figuring out how that affects their taxes. And any new life circumstance -- becoming a homeowner, new parent, or realizing significant gains on stocks or rental income -- may complicate matters.
Still, when it comes to calling in reinforcement, it pays to be cautious. Consumer Reports recommends avoiding preparers who promise a large refund before looking at your information, and those who charge a fee based on the size of the return. Be sure to ask how the firm handles sensitive data (you're looking for the word "shred" in the answer). Our own Tax Superman Roy Lewis has some tips on how to find a trustworthy tax advisor.
For those planning to go it alone, the IRS has a treat for you. Its free Internet filing service, "Free File," enables taxpayers to complete and transmit returns over the Internet without any special software. See if you qualify -- about 60% of individuals do.
Now go clear out next weekend's calendar so you can plod through that 1040 EZ form. And visit our Tax Center if you have any questions.