Marketplace Scratch Pad

I like doing my taxes

Scott Jagow Mar 12, 2009

I hate going to the dentist and sitting in traffic and eating beef stroganoff, but I kinda like the challenge of figuring out my taxes. I’m thinking about that because our Public Insight Network has been asking people, how confusing are your taxes?

My taxes are usually pretty simple, so maybe that’s why I don’t mind. But mostly, I enjoy taking stock of my financial life once a year and especially that moment when the software spits out your return figure. For months, I build up in my mind what my number’s going to be, and I always expect the worst. So, I’m pleasantly surprised when I get more back than I expected, or as this case was this year, I owe less than I thought.

Still, when you do your taxes yourself, there’s always that fear — I’ve royally screwed this up. Two men in dark suits and sunglasses will appear at my door any moment. And a column in today’s Washington Post shows good reason to be concerned:

“Two different programs — having been fed nothing more than basic personal info and the contents of a pair of W-2s — did not agree on the total tax bill for my wife and me.
H&R Block’s TaxCut Online and Intuit’s TurboTax Online should have coughed up identical responses to such a simple input, but instead they were $857 apart.”

Yikes. Here’s what Robert Dupree of Tulsa, Oklahoma sent in to our Public Insight Network:

“I use TurboTax just like the Secretary of the Treasury. I can sympathize with him. I compare using it with playing video games such as Grand Theft Auto or Dungeons and Dragons with more dire consequences. If you make a mistake, you’re screwed for real. Every member of Congress should be required to do their own taxes using it. That way, they can’t shift blame to their accountants.”

And as long as you don’t mess it up, doing your own taxes can save a chunk of money. CBS had a family in Arizona prepare their taxes three different ways. The results:

  • Turbo Tax: Refund: $1,499, Cost: $70, Net back to them: $1,429
  • H&R Block: Refund: $1,579, Fee: $302, Net back to them: $1,277)
  • CPA: Refund: $1,512, Fee: $212, Net back to them: $1,300)

I do hate when the software program asks you to find your AGI from last year, and says, if you used form 1040A, it’s line 39 plus line 41 minus line 33 times line 35 divided by line 12. And then you do all that and it doesn’t come out right. And you’re not even sure which form you used because it doesn’t tell you. And on every form, the AGI seems to come out different.

On second thought, I guess I just like being done with my taxes.

If you have a good tax story, let’s hear it!

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