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Taxing Thoughts

Why doing your own taxes just isn't worth it

Do I use TurboTax or TaxCut? As federal income tax season dawns, that's the question everyone inevitably asks me, and here's my answer: I use neither. For 15 years, I've paid a CPA to do my taxes, and I will pay him again this year. Heresy for an alleged techno guru?

Listen up: I may know technology, but I know squat about taxes. Therefore, I will always gladly pay for professional services that save me time and put a better product in my hand than I could readily prepare on my own.

A curious byproduct of the tech revolution is that more of us spend more time doing tasks others used to do for us. From typing our own letters to maintaining our own files, we've been stripped of support staff, and I can't fight that fact any more than I can afford to pay a secretary $35,000 out of my own pocket. But I can draw the line at taxes, and I remain baffled by folks who cheerfully tell me they saved $400 in accounting fees-but spent $50 on software and wasted an entire Saturday.

My taxes are complicated-and so are yours. There's a self-employed federal Schedule C to fill out, itemized deductions and-in some years-capital gains (or more likely losses in last year's shell-shocked stock market). When it's done, it's a thick packet. How long would it take me to do it on my own?

I actually know the answer because last year, due to a bit of procrastination, I wound up helping my girlfriend do her taxes. We used Quicken's TurboTax-absolutely marvelous software, no question about it. But we spent a long day going over her numbers, diddling with TurboTax and trying to make sure every number was slotted in the right row.

That's a day I don't want to relive. If I'm going to put in a hard day's work-and let's not pretend filling out tax forms is anything but aggravating labor-I want to earn money by doing what I do well, which is writing and selling magazine and online articles.

Of course I'm not a Luddite. I've used Quicken for years as my checkbook-I ditched the paper back-up a couple years ago-and it's a boon when my CPA asks me how much I gave to charity last year or any of the dozens of niggling questions he usually fires at me as he prepares the returns. I used to spend hours hunting down the errant paperwork, but now with Quicken's dandy "Find" command, it only a few seconds. I can't imagine maintaining my financial records without Quicken (or Microsoft Money, which seems about as good), but I also can't imagine investing a weekend afternoon doing my own taxes. If you are--stop it! Spend the day with your kids, your spouse or simply relaxing, and turn the paperwork over to a CPA. It's the best money you'll spend in tax season.

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