What a year! Everything was terrible. Things will be so much better in 2021 (we hope)! But first? Taxes! Oh, yay. (Sigh.) Taxes are never fun. But this year — in addition to the usual dread — there is a lot to think about that none of us has had to consider before.
But don’t put it off. There might be money in this endeavor for you. Even if you collected unemployment, there are opportunities here. “Over 40 million people were unemployed and received expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act,” explains Lisa Greene-Lewis, TurboTax CPA and tax expert. Even though you may not have had taxes withheld and are not entitled to a refund, you still have to file. “And you may be eligible for income-based tax deductions and credits that you weren’t before,” says Greene-Lewis.
Even if you managed to keep working through this pandemic, you still have to consider the tax implications of the stimulus payment you received and the second one you might be about to receive. Even if you didn’t get the payment, there might still be money on the table for you. “If you didn’t receive the full amount of stimulus,” says Greene-Lewis. “You may be eligible for more stimulus in the form of a recovery rebate credit when you file your taxes, which can increase your tax refund or lower what you owe. This also applies to college students who are not dependents and taxpayers who did not receive a stimulus check for their qualified children.”
If you are part of the 42 percent of the U.S. labor force working from home, you need to consider how that shift affects your tax situation. This has changed recently. “Tax reforms say that employees can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee expenses on Federal taxes,” explains Greene-Lewis. “In general, only the self-employed can deduct work from home expenses like the home office deduction.”
If you own a business or started one during the pandemic, the tax implications are even more complicated. “If you used a Payment Protection Loan to pay employees or other business expenses like rent, you may have the loan forgiven and the amount forgiven will not be included in income,” says Greene-Lewis. And if you provided paid leave for employees impacted by Covid-19, you are eligible for tax credits for that expense. Even self-employed people are eligible for tax credits for the time they took off because of Covid.
If you were lucky enough to have had enough money handy to take buy stock while the prices were low, you’ll have to consider profits from that in your taxes, too. Even working in another state from your home state — because you didn’t have to go to an office and could — affects your tax situation.
In short, this will be a more complicated tax scenario for many people this year. It might be the first time you will decide it’s worth it to itemize, you might be an old hand at itemizing but are looking for new tax breaks, or you might just find that it’s confusing and you want help.
Fortunately, there are lots of resources to help you through this.
Online Resources for Filing Your Taxes
There are loads of online resources for this, whether your situation is complicated or simple, whether you owe taxes or expect a refund. The complexity of your tax situation typically determines how much help you’ll need preparing your taxes. Here’s a decision tree to help you decide where to go to do your taxes.
Get the Big Picture First
To get a quick sense of your current tax situation, start at the TurboTax TaxCaster. This online tool will ask you a few pertinent questions — without even asking you to log in — and give you a rough estimate of what you will owe or what refund you might be entitled to. It considers everything from unemployment payments to business expenses and is quick and easy. You just type in some numbers, answer some questions, and get an estimate and suggestions about where to go from here. You can continue through and use one of the TurboTax products to prepare your taxes, or not.
Easy taxes? Those are free to prepare
Once you have been through the TaxCaster and have an idea of how difficult this is going to be, you can more easily decide how much help you need. If things are simple and you are willing to do the work yourself — and keep more of your own money in your pocket — you can probably do this quickly and for free.
The IRS will let you prepare and file your taxes online for free. Depending on your income level, you can choose between filing online and downloading tax forms to fill out.
Complicated taxes? Get more help
For a bit more money, TurboTax, CreditKarma, and others will walk you through your taxes in an online question and answer format that’s easy enough for anyone to complete — even those with complicated tax situations. This isn’t the most fun you will have this year, and it takes patience and time. But it will get the job done and it’s much cheaper than hiring someone to do your taxes for you. In fact, CreditKarma is free for many tax situations. (It doesn’t handle certain more complex scenarios.) TurboTax’s do-it-yourself tools range in price from $40 to $90.
Really complicated? Get someone to do it for you
If your taxes are complicated because you are self-employed, own a business, want to maximize deductions or any of a million other reasons — including you don’t have the time or energy for this — you don’t have to find a local tax accountant. You can log on and have someone do all the work for you.
TurboTax Live is a full-service online tax service that ranges in price from $100 to $260, depending on your tax scenario. You meet online with a tax accountant to answer some questions, snap pics of your tax documents and upload them, then just review the finished forms. This service will file the taxes for you.
Visor, which launched a full-service online accounting service a couple of years ago, will also do your taxes for you for a base price of $299 plus add-ons for more complex scenarios such as international, non-resident taxes and partnerships.