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Plan Well, Retire Well

Should I do my own tax preparation?

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Originally posted in 2021; updated March 2023

Every year people gather up all their tax documents, organize them and then think about their options: do their income tax filing themselves, pay someone else do it, or find another option! Today, let’s explore these options.

Is it better to pay someone else or file your taxes by yourself?
This is a very important question to ask yourself. Many people can do their own taxes effectively, especially when using the tax preparation software programs that help complete the forms. However, many people benefit by hiring a professional to do their taxes. This is especially true if your finances are more complex – for example, if you own your own business. Another option is to explore if you qualify for free assistance. Overall, it depends on the complexity of the income tax filing as well as your comfort level with tax preparation. Of course, your time and convenience need to be considered too.

I want to do my own tax preparation.
First, look at the free filing online options that are available and see if you qualify for these. Otherwise, you can pay to use the online tax preparation programs. Here are two ways to connect with free software:

  1. United Way provides This is a good option for anyone with a simple return. Simple tax situations include W-2income, Schedule C self-employment, unemployment income, EITC and more. MyFreeTaxes automatically screens for credit and deduction eligibility, and also lets you claim any missed stimulus payments. MyFreeTaxes’ Helpline is open daily, 1-866-698-9435.
  2. IRS Free File provides access to online tax preparation on IRS partner sites to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is $73,000 or less, AND provides free file fillable forms to all taxpayers.

As stated on the IRS’s website, the “IRS Free File Program is a public-private partnership between the IRS and many tax preparation and filing software industry leaders who provide their brand-name products for free.”

I need free help with tax preparation. 
Depending on your income level, age, and the complexity of your tax filing, free tax return preparation is available through IRS-certified sites such as VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and AARP Tax-Aide programs. Use the search tool on the IRS website  to find a site close to you.

Do call ahead or visit their website before going to the tax preparation site so that you can check hours and bring all the needed documents with you!

I want to learn more about tax return preparation. 
If you’d like to learn more about tax terminology, tax credits, or are new to filing taxes, our recording of the Get Savvy Webinar: Tackling Taxes is a good place to start!

Originally posted in 2021; updated March 2023


Kathy Sweedler provides personal finance online education with Illinois Extension. Kathy’s emphasis is to encourage people to be confident in their financial decisions, and to help them explore new ways of thinking about and managing money. When Kathy is not engaged in Extension work, she is often traveling and piecing together family genealogy. Genealogy is a puzzle, not that different from managing money!

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio