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DIY or hire a pro?

The only sure things in life are death and taxes and at this time of year if I had to choose, it might be the former. OK, that's a bit dramatic, but tax time is tedious, fraught with angst and procrastination.

Cleo Hamel, senior tax analyst, H&R Block Canada, assures me I'm not alone -- the mere mention of taxes fills many with trepidation: "In most cases, it's the fear of the unknown. When we're dealing with the government, we always have this negative connotation."

Given the choice between filing taxes and going to the dentist, 43 per cent of adults would rather go to the dentist, while a further 23 per cent percent weren't sure which they'd consider more tortuous, according to a survey by Rasmussen Reports.

On one hand there's anxiety about making a mistake that'll land us in hot water; on the other hand, we don't want to overpay. "We work so hard for money and we want to do everything we can to keep it," says Hamel.

Sounds reasonable, which leads to: Are you better off doing your taxes yourself or hiring a professional?

Do you talk taxes?
"A lot of people, in particular those who work for themselves, don't even know where to start," says Nicola Rudzik, owner of Toronto-based Artax, which specializes in tax preparation for artists. "Taxes can be confusing -- the language, the forms, getting the right information, understanding those letters from CRA [Canada Revenue Agency] -- not many people talk the ‘tax language'."

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"A lot of it is comfort level," says Hamel, adding personality plays a role. "You have people that are perfectly capable, but say ‘I don't have the patience.' Others would rather do it themselves because they don't want anyone to know their business."

Define simple
"If you just have a T4 you'll probably be fine doing it yourself," says Hamel.

Although even a few seemingly simple variables can throw novice filers into a panic, adds Rudzik. "There are many different credits available, and each has its own way of being calculated, and it's rarely a straightforward calculation. You can have amounts to carry forward, things to split with a partner, limits to consider. And if you start filing as a business or having rental property income, it adds a whole new level."

Elaine Watson, a CGA and licensed public accountant with Turack Raguseo Lesti Gilliatt LLP in Stouffville, Ont. says DIY can be overwhelming because "there's added complexity every year. It's become such a huge undertaking to delve into tax credits and possible deductions."

Software solutions
In that sense, software has proven a game changer that makes DIY more accessible.

You can buy tax software from a retailer or download it online (sometimes for free): For a list of CRA-certified products visit here.

For as little as $15.99, programs, such as TurboTax, UFile and H&R Block At Home guide you through the process interview-style.

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-- Posted April 4, 2011
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