Have you seen that ad for tax preparation software? You know the one I mean. It says that anyone, even a caveman - no, wait, that is a different commercial - even a "math impaired" or an "unorganized" individual can prepare his or her own income tax return by simply using the software package.
This is pure bull! No tax preparation software is a substitute for knowledge of the tax code. And no tax preparation software is a substitute for the services of a trained tax professional.
As with any software program the rule is "garbage in - garbage out". If you don't know how to enter the information, or what information to enter, you will not get the best, or even the correct, answer.
As a professional tax preparer I attend several tax preparation workshops, seminars, conferences and conventions during the year. I am constantly hearing instructors and participants alike discuss the problems with their tax preparation software, the answer often being that one has to override the system and "force" the correct entry.
IRS statistics indicate that taxpayers using do-it-yourself tax software spend an average of between 6 and 10+ hours longer preparing their tax returns (depending on the number of worksheets and schedules) than preparers who did manual calculations. Further, the IRS estimates that do-it-yourself software users spend an average of 10 to over 20 hours longer than a tax preparer, again depending on complexity.
H+R Block has sued the company that produces the tax software in the above mentioned ad, and has asked a federal judge to shut down the advertising campaign.
The bottom line is - if you don't know what you are doing do not rely on a tax preparation software package to make up for your lack of knowledge. Using a tax professional will save you time, aggravation and money!
Speaking of tax season ads, the commercials for the Henry + Richard and Jackson Hewitt fast food tax preparation chains continue to emphasize the fact that you can walk into their office and walk out with a check, and not that they can prepare your return competently and accurately so that you pay the absolute least amount of tax possible (to be fair, H+R does have an ad that tells you they will pay the interest and penalty for their mistakes).
These chains are pushing Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs), which are very profitable. While a great thing for Henry + Richard and Jackson Hewitt, a Refund Anticipation Loan is NOT a good thing for the individual taxpayer. It is nothing more than a short-term loan at a usurious interest rate. The interest rate on some of these RALs is triple-digit, similar to a loan shark. A recent Washington State Journal article reported that the interest rate could be as high as 521%, with more than 10% of the refund going to fees!
Henry + Richard have gotten into a lot of legal trouble with their RAL programs. In December H+R Block reached a $62.5 Million settlement with an estimated 8 Million customers in more than two dozen states over Refund Anticipation Loans. But they continue to aggressively promote RALs during the tax season because of the huge profits.
Unfortunately, Refund Anticipation Loans appeal most to, and take unfair advantage of, the working poor and other low-income taxpayers who need every penny of their tax refund.
If you need your refund quickly use direct deposit. With direct deposit your refund should be deposited into your bank account within 10 days. If that is not good enough investigate other methods of short-term borrowing. Even a cash advance from a credit card is "more better" than a Refund Anticipation Loan, providing you pay back the advance as soon as the refund arrives.
copyright (c) 2006 by Robert D Flach LLC