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The best tax preparation services: Prepare your taxes like a pro

Tax season can be an overwhelming time for many people. However, finding the best tax preparation service can help lighten the burden.
Written by Jacob Pippin, Contributor
Reviewed by Marc Wojno

Remember the saying: "April showers bring May flowers." Quite a nice thought, isn't it? But many of us are fully aware of something else April brings. That's right -- Tax season. Proper tax preparation is essential to get your best return during tax season.

Preparation, calculations, and filing income tax returns can be daunting tasks. Form after form can make the process a bit overwhelming, and when we throw in the tax credits and deductions, our sanity is at stake. But the anxiety does not have to consume you. Tax preparation services and tax preparers are available to help. First, let's look at the options for tax filing.

The best tax preparation service is going to be the one that fits your needs. Individuals filing their taxes from income gained from an employer will have different needs than those filing and are self-employed. Furthermore, the complexities that come from tax credits and deductions can make a person opt for a professional tax preparer.

H&R Block is a big name in tax filing due to its longevity in the industry and its vast operation, having nearly 10,000 offices. The H&R Block customer reviews back up its professional claims as being top-notch in the tax filing industry. It offers options to file with experienced tax professionals in-person (or virtually) or to file through their online services. 

Most people will find the appropriate services they need with H&R Block. Services for simple tax return filing to more complex self-employed tax filings are available. Online filing services are tiered based on need. Simple filing for students, those with unemployment income, or W-2 employees are offered at no cost.

Those looking to maximize credits and deductions may prefer the Deluxe option, starting at $29.99, while rental property owners and investors might opt for the Premium option, starting at $49.99. There is also an online option, starting at $84.99, for those who have small businesses or are self-employed and have individual home deductions. Assistance from live experts is available for these online options at additional costs. 
If an online tax preparation service doesn't suit your taste, H&R Block still offers services with tax professionals, one-on-one in an office or virtually, starting at $80. H&R Block is a popular choice for a reliable tax preparation service due to its long history, high customer ratings, and affordable pricing structure. 

You can learn more at H&R Block if you feel it is right for you. 

Jackson Hewitt has been in the tax filing game for over three decades. It offers services in more than 5,500 locations, with half of those located within Walmart stores. These locations' uniqueness offers tax filing customers a convenient option when searching for a tax preparation service. 

In addition to the services offered at the locations mentioned above with on-site tax professionals, Jackson Hewitt offers online tax filing options and virtual filing with tax professionals. Simple, online tax filing starts at $25 for federal filings. Virtual options with tax professionals range from $69 to $249 depending on need, from simple filers to self-employed and more complex tax filers. Due to the franchise nature of some Jackson Hewitt offices, on-site prices may vary. It is best to call one nearest to you for appropriate pricing. 

Some people prefer the in-person options offered by the tax preparation services mentioned above. Others may choose to use tax preparation software or online options to help prepare and file their taxes. If you are the latter, TurboTax may be right for you. 

TurboTax offers its services through an online format or software purchased in most retail stores. There are no storefronts or offices to visit. TurboTax is a great tax preparation option for those who feel comfortable doing things themselves. But that doesn't mean professional tax assistance isn't available if needed; TurboTax Live is an option that allows a tax professional to help complete the process with you.
With TurboTax software, customers can file federal and state taxes through an easy-to-follow, step-by-step series of questions, assuming the proper tax documents and forms are already on hand. A free edition is offered for simple returns, W-2 employees, and unemployment income. Deluxe and Premier online options are available for those looking to maximize deductions and credits or those with investment or rental property; those options start at $39 and $79, respectively. A personal and business option for those who are self-employed, starting online at $89. 

What is the best way to file taxes?

What are the best ways to file your taxes? Well, you only have three options. Let's look at each briefly:

  • Manual filing: Manually filing is done by completing the IRS's Individual Tax Return Form (Form 1040). Once completed, mail it to the IRS along with any payment owed. 
  • Tax preparation services using software programs: Tax software programs are standard in these days of e-filing. These tax programs or websites offer services that walk customers through the process, step by step, by asking a series of questions about taxable income, deductions, etc. File these electronically. 
  • Tax preparation services and tax preparers: Some people opt for professional tax filing. A tax preparation service will work with clients to help them fill out the appropriate tax forms and will help them to maximize returns.

What is a tax preparation service?

Simply put, a tax preparation service works with individuals to help prepare their tax returns. Sometimes these tax preparation services also offer tax planning, making you better prepared for future tax seasons. These are services like budgeting and bookkeeping, auditing, or simply tax consulting. While these are often done in person, online tax preparation services are also an option. 

It is important to note that tax preparation services are simply that; tax preparation. This means that they will not guarantee a specific tax refund amount or guarantee surefire ways to help reduce the taxes you may owe. The primary job of tax preparation services is to help prepare a client's tax return based on their information. That means it is crucial to have your ducks in a row and your facts in order when you meet with them.

What about professional tax preparers?

If you are overwhelmed, hesitant, or uncomfortable filing your taxes, then a tax preparation service or preparer may be ideal for you. Expertise in this area, not to mention the time saved, could provide a sigh of relief this tax season. If you have decided to explore this option of using a tax preparation service, then it is time to look at some of the best tax preparation services and tax preparers. 

Maybe big retail chains aren't your thing, or perhaps your tax situation is complex. If so, an independent tax preparer may be an option for you. Filing your taxes with the help of an independent tax accountant or CPA firm is one way to ensure that your taxes are filed professionally. Complex tax returns require people with the right expertise who know the rules and the laws. Often, these are professionals that deal with taxes year-round, not only during tax season.
This process can be as simple as dropping off the appropriate forms and documentation at a local office or working with a tax professional through an online portal. Bear in mind that if this is a route you want to take, start early since tax season is a hectic time for CPA firms. 
Pricing for this type of professional tax preparation help will vary. It is best to explore the services offered in your area. CPA directories and tax professional websites are available to help in that search. 

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