This past weekend, I sat down to do our taxes. For the first time in my life, I am not getting a tax return. I actually owe taxes.
A whole $7.
I know $7 is really not a big deal at all, but I am a little bitter about not getting money back. I could have really used a little more help to pay down my debts.
However, I am happy that I opted to file my own taxes this year – for free – instead of paying someone to do them for me. We made that mistake last year, and I’m still bitter about that, too. (But that’s a story for another day.)
I don’t know a lot about taxes. I am very far from being an expert at it, but I’ve filed my own taxes online enough times to know what I’m doing. Thankfully, my taxes have never been that complicated. This year my husband and I only had a couple of T4s and a T4A between the two of us.
The tax software available is also more user-friendly each year. Most websites will walk you through the process and will alert you to any possible error made or things you might have missed.
For my own peace of mind, however, I always enter our information into at least two different tax websites. Each one has their own interface and a slightly different way of collecting and inputting your information. Doing it twice helps me verify that I didn’t make a mistake when entering my data or that I didn’t completely miss something.
This year, I ended up trying Ufile and H&R Block – both are the Canadian versions.
I Didn’t Like the Layout of UFile
I started off trying UFile after they sent me a free promo code via email. I don’t think I’ve ever used them before, so I’m not entirely sure how I ended up on their mailing list, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
But I didn’t really like it.
I found their interface to be confusing. Any sort of error or warning was noted in small text at the very bottom of the page, and was often covered up by a pop-up that appeared anytime it saved my progress. I also didn’t like that they used drop-down menus for everything. Sometimes I didn’t know what option to pick, and it wouldn’t let me move on otherwise. I didn’t really feel confident that I was doing it right.
In the end, however, my results were the same as the other websites I tried. So it did, in fact, work just as well as the others. I guess it’s just a preference thing, for me.
I Filed with H&R Block (Because it’s free!)
Since H&R Block will let you file for free, I gave up with UFile and turned there instead.
I had a lot of issues with H&R Block in the past when I filed in person, so I was a little leery about giving them my business again. (That too is a story for another day.) But I find their online version to be one of the best.
It’s very easy to follow. I particularly liked the “Quick Entry” option they have. I don’t know if other websites offer this or not, but with H&R Block this option pops up before they start the interview process of inputting your tax information. It allows you to quickly enter things like your T4s or other slips or receipts you received.
For example, I had a T4A this year from cashing out my pension from a former job. Rather than looking through all the options to find where I’d enter this pension information, I simply typed T4A into the search box and there it was!
With a paid version of H&R Block’s software, you can also auto-fill part of your return. (Or you can use TurboTax which let’s you do this – and file your return – for free.) If you already have a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) account, you can log into it through the H&R Block/TurboTax website and it will auto-populate your T4 information based on what’s already been submitted from your employer. Meaning you don’t have to input that data yourself. You can simply compare it to the T4s you have.
Why You Should File Your Own Taxes (or at least try to!)
I think that you can learn a lot by trying to file your taxes on your own, even if you use an accountant or tax specialist in the end.
If your taxes are more complicated or if you’re trying to file on your own for the first time, I understand the hesitation. But there’s no harm in trying, right? Especially since you can try for free. All it will really cost you is a bit of your time.
But trying will also better prepare you for when you do sit down to file your taxes – whether you do it yourself or get a professional help.
You’ll know if you are missing anything that you need. You will get an idea of either how much your tax return will be, or how much you still owe. And you can prepare any questions that you might have.
Because I’m all about comparing my tax results, this will also give you something to compare the specialist’s results to.
If the specialist gets the same results you did, maybe this will give you the reassurance that you need to be more comfortable filing on your own next year. But if the results are different, take a bit of time to figure out why and learn from that. Was it simply a data entry error on your part? Or was it something that made hiring professional help worth it?
YOUR TURN: Do you file your own taxes? Why or why not?
Are you getting a tax return this year, or do you more money like I do?
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.