I’ve recently been contacted by a couple of people, asking me to review the tax returns they prepared themselves with TurboTax. They’re just part of a long list of people over the years to contact me about this, which is what prompted me to write this article.
Having been in public accounting for about thirty years, I’ve always used professional tax preparation software that’s meant for people who know their way around tax returns. The difference between the software I use and TurboTax is sort of like the difference between a Viking and EZ-Bake oven. You’ve heard the line “kids, don’t try this at home”, right? Well, when it comes to taxes, it’s the same thing. You shouldn’t be doing it yourself. I must confess, though, that for a very simple tax return (with one W-2 and one 1099 for bank interest, for example), you probably can get away with using TurboTax.
I have a problem with Intuit, the company that makes TurboTax. They’re trying to convince the world that all you need to do is pay $49 (or whatever the cost is) for ‘The Box’, and ‘The Box’ will guarantee your biggest tax refund, will support you in case of an audit, will guarantee its calculations, and will answer all your questions (wow, maybe I should use TurboTax!). The problem is, taxes are just not that easy, regardless of what Intuit is trying to brainwash the masses into thinking. Neither is bookkeeping, and Intuit has the same tactic with QuickBooks, but that’s a subject for another day.
The question I have for all those people who have contacted me to review their self-prepared TurboTax returns is “if Intuit is giving you all this support, and making these guarantees, and you think you know enough to do the return yourself, then why are you contacting me?” It seems to me that there’s some sort of doubt in the minds of these people; that maybe placing so much faith in ‘The Box’ isn’t enough assurance that the job is being done correctly. I’ve had many people come to me over the years, who have found out the hard way that putting blind faith in ‘The Box’ has led them to notices from IRS, and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in tax and penalties and interest that could’ve been avoided by spending a little more than $49, to have a real person/tax professional, advise them.
I recommend that you think long and hard about whether you’re really qualified to prepare your own tax returns, or if it’s a better use of your time and hard-earned money to have a knowledgeable tax professional help you instead.