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A Taxing Question: DIY Or Hire An Accountant?

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A Taxing Question: DIY Or Hire An Accountant?

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A Taxing Question: DIY Or Hire An Accountant?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It's that time again: tax season, and for many of you, time to wrestle with that nagging question: Should I do the taxes myself or pay someone else? Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH: We put out a query on NPR's Facebook page, asking how you decide whether to do your taxes yourself or get professional help. And the response was overwhelming: more than 50 comments in the first two minutes, 850 in all.

For Jane Anstet(ph), turning to an accountant was all about peace of mind.

Ms. JANE ANSTET: I hate taxes. They give me anxiety, and I call it tax anxiety.

KEITH: When she says anxiety, she means it. It all started when Anstet tried using tax software back in 1998.

Ms. ANSTET: Sweat, panic attacks, my heart was beating, wondering, you know, oh, my gosh. What's that's number going to be? And it goes on for hours.

KEITH: The funny thing is, Anstet has a degree in accounting and even passed the CPA exam, but calculating her own financial fate is just too much to handle.

David Falcheck(ph), a writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania, gets great satisfaction from doing them himself.

Mr. DAVID FALCHECK (Writer): This year, I think I really got over the hump, and it took me less time than I thought it was going to take.

KEITH: But there was a time when Falcheck decided his taxes had gotten too complicated to handle on his own.

Mr. FALCHECK: I did pay a CPA to do them, and the next tax season came around, and I looked at them, and I thought, you know what? I already have the blueprint here. I'm going to be doing the same forms. All that's really changing is the numbers that are going on them.

KEITH: Falcheck's been doing them himself ever since. Subash Sunderason(ph) works for a start-up tech firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he's been using TurboTax for the last several years. He's had this lingering fear that he's been leaving money on the table. So he decided to get a second look.

Mr. SUBASH SUNDERASON (Tech Firm Employee): I took it into a professional this time, and the good news and the bad news is that there wasn't any such you know, he didn't either goldmine or landmine. So it was pretty much as it was.

KEITH: Jodi Boyce(ph) and her husband do their taxes together on the same date every year. The tradition started several years ago.

Ms. JODI BOYCE: And I was, like, okay. We can do them on Saturday, not even thinking about what the date was, until a friend of mine asked me: What are you doing for Valentine's Day on Saturday? And I'm, like, oh. I'm doing my taxes.

KEITH: After they finish with their 1040-EZ, they go out for a nice dinner. But taxes don't spell romance for everyone. One person who commented said she and her husband turned to an accountant after doing their own taxes caused the ugliest argument in their eight-year relationship.

For Ed Jones, 2009 was the tax year when his life got significantly more complicated. His wife gave birth to their son last January, then Jones lost his job. He went on unemployment, sold some stock to help pay the bills and ultimately formed a new business of his own, which started bringing in income.

Mr. ED JONES: I just thought, you know, I'll just hire a professional.

KEITH: Jones says he could probably go back to doing his own taxes, but plans to use an accountant from here on out, anyway.

Mr. JONES: At some point, especially when you have a baby, time is a precious commodity. To sit down and have four or five hours of uninterrupted time to do your taxes is - you know, there's more important things to do in life.

KEITH: If you think Jones has a complicated tax life, try being a stage performer. We heard from actors and musicians who have to file returns in every state their tours take them, not to mention trying to figure out whether makeup is an acceptable write-off.

A bad experience with a tax preparer prompted Ylan Mui to try and do her own taxes this year.

Ms. YLAN MUI (Business Reporter, Washington Post): I'm a confident, capable woman of the 21st century, and I'm going to do this myself.

KEITH: Mui is a business reporter at The Washington Post and wrote up her experience for the paper. Let's just say when it comes to doing her taxes, confident and capable only go so far.

Ms. MUI: Five hours after messing with TurboTax later, I realized that I actually was not capable of doing this myself, and I needed help.

KEITH: Her taxes are pretty complicated. Mui and her husband have two rental properties and own their home. After answering all of the program's questions, it said she owed more than $5,000 to the IRS.

Ms. MUI: I said to myself, you know, if I really owe this much money, I want to hear it from a person, not a computer.

KEITH: So, she went to a CPA.

Ms. MUI: And she found within the first, really, 15 minutes that, actually, I was getting close to a $5,000 refund instead of paying $5,000.

KEITH: Mui had forgotten to enter the mortgage interest on her home. Whoops. So, should you hire a professional? It all depends on how complicated your financial life has gotten and whether you trust yourself to get it right. According to the IRS, about 60 percent of taxpayers hire someone.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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