Should You File Taxes Online for Free or Use a CPA?

Once upon a time, before the Internet, every taxpayer submitted a paper tax return. To avoid making a reporting mistake, you might use a CPA. Today, it's possible to file taxes online for free (or a fee up to $150) and entrusting your tax information to a CPA.

Which option is better for your tax situation?

Having filed online tax returns for my first 15 working years and now using a CPA for the last three years, I'll share my experiences to help you make the best decision.

File Taxes Online for Free

The better option for most people is filing your taxes online by yourself. Millions of Americans have been doing it for roughly 20 years without a glitch. Many people use TurboTax or H&R Block because they are the largest and most user-friendly platforms. Unless you have a simple return, you can easily spend between $100 and $150 if you need to itemize, reports sold investments, or sold income and have to file a state tax return.

For years, I used clunkier, bargain-priced tax prep software programs like TaxSlayer or TaxACT to file a return for a sharply lower price and still get the same results.

Now, one of the best online tax prep secrets is using Credit Karma Tax to file your federal AND state tax returns for free.

Even if you itemize, sold investments or have to report self-employment income, you pay $0 to complete and file your return. Sounds like a sweet deal to me!

You can read my Credit Karma Tax review to learn more about this legit way to file taxes online for free.

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Who Should File Taxes Online for Free?

  • People with simple tax returns and don't have to itemize
  • People with basic W-2 or self-employment income deductions or sold regular investments

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File Your Taxes With a CPA

For the last three years, my wife and I use a CPA to prepare our tax return. This is mostly because we are both self-employed and have a semi-complex return. We could file the return ourselves with an online program, but we like having the extra set of eyes on our return to make sure we accurately report each business deduction.

I haven't tried plugging our tax information into an online program to compare the numbers. Primarily because I have bigger fish to fry and I know enough about what our tax burden should be that the numbers make sense. After all, the CPA is the tax prep professional.

One downside of using a CPA is you usually have to carve out time during the workweek to schedule a meeting and bring your payment documents. That can mean taking a vacation day or swapping shifts to make the appointment. If you have a local CPA you like and trust (like me), I encourage you to use them. Being self-employed, I'm all about support local business as much as possible.

Thanks to the Internet, you can use Visor CPA to digitally meet your tax preparer from wherever you live or work. You can upload your tax documents (in most cases, they are paperless to begin with) and answer a few basic questions so the CPA can prepare your return at their convenience. This way, you don't have to watch the CPA plug every number into their computer as you idly wait for them to ask any questions.

Visor starts at $99 to file a basic federal and state tax return. You will need to pay $99 for each of these additional services:

  • Self-employed
  • Sold stock, equity, or crypto
  • Rental income
  • K-1 or partnership income
  • International residents or non-residents

If you have a complex tax return, spending the extra money can be worth it to make sure you get an accurate return or to save time because you're not familiar with the nuances of the tax code. Let's face it, most of us don't think about filing taxes except for one or two days in the opening months of each calendar year.

Who Should Use a CPA?

  • Self-employed and small businesses that need to make year-round CPA access for quarterly filings and advice
  • People with complex returns including complicated investments or self-employment deductions
  • Filers who want an extra set of eyes
  • The computer illiterate

It's easier than ever to file taxes online but sometimes it's best to let the experts do it.

What Say You?

Alright, it's your turn. How do you plan on filing your taxes? Are you going to brave it and file taxes online? Or will you use a CPA –either online or in-person– to do the dirty work for you?

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Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.