How to Prepare For Tax Season: 5 Questions with a CPA
Before you know it, February will be over and suddenly, tax season will be looming like a terrifying monster in your closet. Every year, millions of Americans go into full panic mode just thinking about getting their taxes together, but it doesn’t have to be scary! I talked to my favorite all-around financial guru Britt (who also happens to be a CPA and just launched her incredible consulting business!) about what you can do to get your papers, finances, and life in order to make filing a breeze this year.
1)What's the biggest cause of stress when people file their taxes? How can they help themselves?
"I think it's just that it's so foreign to most people. We learn the Pythagorean Theorem in school but never about taxes, and it's a huge injustice because having the knowledge could help you save some serious (SERIOUS) cash. The best way to offset that is to take baby steps to learn about taxes in general. Figure out the difference between standard and itemized deductions. Know how your W-4 exemptions affect how much you get back at the end of the year. Learn why credits are better than deductions. The information is on the internet for your taking, and if you don't like that method, buy your CPA friend a drink and ask your questions of her/him."
2) When is getting a CPA a good idea, as opposed to filing yourself?
"The DIY tax software out there (i.e. TurboTax) has really come a long way, and if your money situation is fairly simple (you have a W-2, maybe some student loan interest to deduct, some mortgage interest...) you can more than likely file it yourself. They walk you through question-by-question, so it's not hard to follow and you don't need a CPA license to understand it. On the other hand, if your tax situation is more complicated (i.e. you own a business, buy real estate frequently, trade a lot of stocks), it may be beneficial to use a CPA to do your taxes as they could potentially save you money - that's where their expertise comes in handy and you want to take advantage of it."
3) If you're self-employed or have a side hustle, how does this complicate things?
"You'll have to file a Schedule C, which is the Profit or Loss from Business form. Here is where you input all the income you earned and costs you incurred as part of running that side hustle or business. Again, if you're not very tax-savvy, this is where utilizing a CPA could come in handy."
4) If you chose to go the CPA route, how can someone prepare for their appointment?
"Get all of your tax documents (i.e. W-2, 1099s, etc.) and receipts together and organized into categories. Normally CPAs will also provide you with a list of things to bring with, so make sure you go through that line-by-line and provide the documentation they need. The better prepared you are, the less you'll have to answer calls or emails wondering where certain docs are."
5) Any other advice or tips?
"Getting all of your information together at year-end can be stressful, so start preparing for next tax season NOW. Keep a file folder (or folders) and store any of those documents you come across that may be needed on your return. And don't listen to everyone who says getting a tax refund at year-end is a bad thing because you're giving the government an "interest-free loan" - I purposefully do it each year, and I'd love to see if people use it as wisely throughout the year as I do when I get that lump sum."
Brittney Knies is a CPA running her own financial coaching and accounting (think bookkeeping & taxes) business in Indianapolis. If you're in need of a little back office help from someone other than your dad's accountant, go ahead and shoot her a DM on Instagram!