NEWS 
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H&R Block Offering Free Tax Advice March 25th

Have you ever tried to call the IRS to ask a question? How about searched IRS.gov to find the answer to a particularly vexing question? If so, you’re one of millions of people to do so and many of them can’t find the answers they’re looking for. The tax preparation software packages from H&R Block and TurboTax are great for a lot of scenarios but sometimes you have something that doesn’t fit into a nice box and you want to get an answer from a professional, even if it’s just to assuage your fears.

Fortunately, the tax prep companies usually offer free tax advice throughout tax season and this Thursday, March 25th, H&R Block is offering a full day of free tax advice on their H&R Block Tax Talk Line. From rom 12:01 a.m. CT through 11:59 p.m. CT, 50 tax experts will be available to answer questions for free.

  • Call 1-866-HRBLOCK
  • Email taxtalk@hrblock.com

If you had a question, Thursday is your chance to find the answer for free.

If you take advantage of this offer, please let us know how it was!


 Taxes 
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2009 Tax Software Shootout: TurboTax vs. TaxCut

In the world of tax preparation software, the big players are Intuit’s TurboTax and H&R Block’s TaxCut. You have smaller players like TaxACT, but the two biggest in terms of branding and market share have to be TurboTax and TaxCut. They battle each other each year but when you really get down to the basics, both products offer the same thing – tax preparation that won’t cost you hundreds of dollars.

Don’t buy the commercials that say you have to go to a tax preparer because you can’t ask the box. A friend of mine once walked into a branch of H&R Block and had her fairly straightforward taxes prepared for $350. She didn’t have any special circumstances whatsoever! Her problem was that she didn’t know how owning a home would affect her taxes. She heard needed to itemize, had no idea what it meant, and that cost her $350. Fortunately for everyone else, you don’t have to know much to prepare your taxes with software because the software will do it for you. I don’t fault H&R Block, they’re a business and they need to keep the lights on, but she could’ve gone with software and saved herself some serious coin.

So, which company should you go with? Intuit’s TurboTax or H&R Block’s TaxCut?

(Click to continue reading…)


 Taxes 
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Outsourcing Tax Preparation: Admit Your Limitations

SVB had a post on Thursday about how she would be outsourcing tax preparation this year, beginning with the motivations and then an essential questionnaire you need to go through to find the right professional to work with. I won’t go into how you select the right accountant or accounting firm, she does a great job, but I will go into why I considered and opted to outsource tax preparation.

Several years ago, a friend told me that she paid H&R Block $350 to prepare her taxes. I was shocked. I felt her tax situation was straightforward (she owned a home, had one income, nothing else noteworthy that I was aware of) but she was drawn into the idea that it was a professional doing her taxes and that she was safe against the horrors of an audit. To me, $350 is too much for tax preparation for her situation but she was buying “peace of mine,” and there are many cases where I’d overpay for peace of mind.

That being said, I’m still pretty stubborn, something my beautiful wife can attest to, and as a typical alpha male I feel like I need to be in control and do things myself. I’m also a personal finance blogger. I feel that I should be well versed in the arts of personal finance and that I should be doing my own taxes. Lastly, I’m frugal, why would I paid hundreds of dollars to do something I can do on TurboTax for a few bucks? I will be outsourcing tax preparation this year.

The motivations for outsourcing tax preparation were very much like my friend’s. The biggest concern is an audit. It’s my belief that audits are only absolutely horrible (they’re still horrible and a headache, it’s a matter of severity) for people who are disorganized or not 100% honest on tax returns. So, since I’m 100% honest, I’ve outsourced accounting services for the business in order to handle the disorganized part. I may be organized compared to normal people, but I’m not organized compared to accountants or IRS agent! Tax preparation is a component of the service the CPA provides and one I’m happy to take advantage of.

There comes a time when you have to recognize your limitations and let professionals do the job. For each person, that’s different for different jobs. I may be well-read about tax information but I’m certainly not qualified, or interested in, managing the day to day accounting affairs of any business, let alone mine. When it comes to replacing a roof, something that will happen this summer, I will gladly outsource that job unless we have roofers in the area who think we can do it ourselves (that’s the frugal in me coming out, not the stubborn!).


 Taxes 
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Win A USB Key With TaxCut Software

The contest has ended and the winners have been notified.

One of the PR firms representing H&R Block sent me three USB keys loaded with their TaxCut software and I’m going to give you all a chance to win them. I know April 15th is coming upon us soon, less than a month away, so this contest will only be running until this Friday. Some quick requirements if you want one:

  • Please don’t enter if you already did your taxes or you can do them for free.
  • Please live in the US (I know it’s obvious but sometimes people don’t realize it, this is for tax prep in the US!)
  • Then, please leave a comment with your favorite Laffy Taffy joke ever, and/or,
  • Sign up to receive these posts via email from Feedburner.

To sign up to receive the posts on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity via email, enter your email address below. All you will get are emails from Feedburner (and then one from me when I select a winner for this contest and potentially future contests), otherwise you will receive no other emails.

On Friday I will select the funniest joke, one email subscriber, and then one at random from both lists; email them, and hopefully mail out the keys on Saturday.

Good luck!


 Your Take 
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Your Take: Professional Tax Preparation or a Box?

I’ve been working full time for five years now and have used TurboTax for the last four (I did it by hand the first year, I have no idea why!). I’ve never walked into a tax preparation store like an H&R Block or a Jackson Hewitt but my friends have and walked away with experiences that hardly warranted the $300 fees they paid. On one hand, my tax situation had been fairly simple for the last four years. Single income (one year I had two W-2s but that’s hardly rare), standard deduction, twenty minutes in TurboTax and I was done. I went to an itemized deduction two years ago because of the mortgage interest but that hardly registered. Two years ago I even added on a Schedule C for income generated from side ventures, again that wasn’t much of a curveball for TurboTax. I don’t have a complicated situation… why would I pay $300 for someone to ask the same questions a box would ask?

What’s your take on tax preparation? Worth it? Not worth it?


 Taxes 
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Win A Free ‘Copy’ of TaxCut Online

This promotion has ended, thank you to everyone who entered!

Earlier this week I shared a list of free tax preparation services, so why not end the week with a tax-related giveaway? I was contacted by a PR representative of H&R Block and offered two online codes that would allow two hardworking Americans the ability to take advantage of H&R Block’s TaxCut online service absolutely free.

I ask two things of you:

  • Please read this list of free tax preparation services. Don’t enter if you can get it for free! :)
  • Please share with me either the craziest tax related story you heard, the more ridiculous tax deduction you’ve ever heard, or your favorite tax related joke in the comments. (no story/deduction/joke, no entry!)

How will I pick the winner? One winner will be selected at random, one winner will be selected by me.

When does it end? I will select two winners on February 15th, email them, and the PR company will send out the codes as soon as they can. If I email you on the 15th and you don’t respond by the end of the business day on the 19th (Tuesday), I’m picking someone else (sorry!). Tax day is coming up soon so I don’t want to dilly dally, whatever the heck that means.

Good luck!


 Taxes 
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List of Free Tax Preparation Services

I bet the first thing you thought after you screamed “Happy New Year!” was how it was now time to do your taxes. (no? me neither) Unfortunately, it’s now February and it’s time to start thinking about doing taxes! Wheee! To help you along, I wanted to outline all the free resources you have for tax preparation. By this I mean I’m listing every single way I think you can get absolutely free tax preparation based on your financial situation. Some tax prep companies offer free tax filing if your situation is simple (1040EZ, or plain 1040), the IRS offers free tax filing if your adjusted gross income was under $54,000 in 2007 (it’s through third party companies), and some other companies offer free tax preparation for their customers as a fringe benefit. I’ll try to list them all. If I miss one that you know of (one that expands on the group of eligible taxpayers, we don’t need another company that offers free tax prep for the same groups already covered below), please leave a comment or email me and I’ll add to this list.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Taxes 
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Don’t Get A Refund Anticipation Loan

Every year millions of hard working Americans will walk into a tax preparers office to get their taxes done. A small subset of those hard working Americans will agree to a tax rebate loan, sometimes called a refund anticipation loan, without fully understanding how ridiculously expensive they are. Sometimes they aren’t well informed, sometimes they are simply strapped for cash, sometimes they just don’t do the math and don’t realize they’re getting the short end of the stick. Ultimately I believe the responsibility falls on the consumer to understand it because the tax preparation companies disclose everything. They tell you exactly what you’re paying, they don’t make the information difficult to find (I found H&R Block’s RAL information within two minutes), and it’s always on the consumer to be aware of what he or she is signing.

That being said, I feel that it’s my responsibility to at least write a little about how absolutely ridiculous these types of loans are. According to the IRS, if you e-file and select direct deposit as one of your options, you should get your refund in an estimated 8 to 15 days. Eight to fifteen days. That’s it! You could file right this second and get your refund in time to make rent at the end of the month. That’s how quick it is.

So, in order to get your own money back a little quicker, people are turning to loans? I had no idea how expensive they were until I looked at actual pricing information. Check out this H&R Block Refund Anticipation Loan pricing sheet (I found this in two minutes, no joke). Let’s say you are going to get a $2,000 check directly from H&R Block, rather than waiting the 8 to 15 estimated days it’ll take for the IRS to direct deposit the funds to your account. How much will you pay?

  • Activation Fee: $29.95 right off the bat to even play the RAL game.
  • 36% APR: That’s the interest rate of the loan you’re getting! Thirty-six percent APR! People scream about how credit card companies are predatory and the highest rate they charge, when you start defaulting on payments, is 29.99%! (That’s Citi’s default rate)
  • Check Processing Fee: Another $20 fee to “process” your check.

So, on a $2,000 check they estimate that it’ll have fees of about $71.41, or about 3.5%. $71.41 is the price of a nice dinner for two. $71.41 towards your credit card debt will find you closer to freedom. Paying $71.41 to borrow money from your future self (in 8-15 days too)… that’s an outstanding ripoff. The lower the amount you get back, the more exorbitant the fees look. If your RAL is only for $200, then you’re paying $52.09 in fees which makes it an unfathomable 26%. That’s like me reaching into your pocket and swapping out all your twenty dollar bills with fifteen dollars bills. You think that sounds ludicrous? Think of how many people accept those fifteen dollars bills!

Are you really that strapped for cash? If so, that’s totally understandable. The solution isn’t a refund anticipation loan, the solution is to file your taxes right this very second. You can find an IRS sanctioned tax preparer that will help you prepare and e-file you taxes for free (if you qualify). Then, the next step is to adjust your withholdings so you aren’t over-prepaying your taxes next year. The last resort is a refund anticipation loan.


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