Author Topic: When is a CPA "worth it"?  (Read 1714 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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When is a CPA "worth it"?
« on: February 03, 2018, 08:55:52 AM »
With all apologies to CPAs on the board!

My question is: if you use a CPA, what about your circumstances did you consider when making that choice? If you previously used one and stopped, what factored in to your decision?

I've always done my own taxes, including after I got married three years ago. I don't mind doing them because, you know, badassity - why pay someone if I can learn to do the task for myself?

My husband and I are in a different position this year, though. We're earning a ton more (I finished a PhD last summer and am on the tenure track; he's now among the senior management in his own career), we just bought a house, etc. We've always been MMM-inclined and have no debt, have maxed out retirement accounts even when I was pulling in a grad school stipend, have a couple of taxable accounts, a few side hustles, etc.

I wonder if I know enough about the tax code to max out every available opportunity, and whether it's worth my time now to learn it. I've been digging around for the answers to some of my tax questions, but part of me thinks that I'd sleep easier knowing that an 'authority' validated or corrected my findings. ...But spending money when I could do it for myself would cause its own consternation.

Here are some of the things that make the situation seem "complicated" enough to make me wonder if a professional is worth it.

1. We're earning ~$60k more than we did last year.
2. We bought a house in the town where my employer is located, as first-time home buyers.
3. I live in the house full-time and my husband is here 3-4 nights a week.* The other nights, we have a cheap crash pad in the large city where he works, about 90 miles away. I think we'd get a credit from the town on taxes paid in the city where my husband works if he lived in our town full time, but because he is technically also a resident of the city, I don't think that we can take advantage of that - but I don't know. 
4. As a matter of principle, I agree that we should pay taxes in both the town and the city. We benefit from public services in both locations. That doesn't mean just giving municipalities our money willy-nilly, but rather paying a fair share.
5. I did some contract work (1099) as a side hustle and will need to pay taxes on that.
6. The last time I looked into a CPA, filing W2s was inexpensive. But because we've got the 1099 and our taxable investment accounts, even if we're talking about relatively little in dollars, it creates more work for the CPA, which increases the cost.
7. If a CPA could find enough in savings to, at a minimum, cover his/her fee, is that worth my time?

*If you're wondering why:
This is rural Midwest, so even after transaction costs, buying was far cheaper than renting. University town means that we hope to eventually rent the house to students or other faculty moving to the area. We're actively trying to change the fact that my husband doesn't work nearby, of course, but the kind of work he does is hard to find in America's farmland. It's possible, and he has had one interview already, but we're essentially waiting for someone in the surrounding 3-4 counties to retire. In terms of spending time together, clearly this is not ideal. We're giving his job search another ~18 months before deciding whether to live in the middle or figure out some other arrangement. We've run the numbers, and we're still coming out ahead financially doing it this way compared to one of us commuting daily, because COL here is just that low. The trade-off is that we can put many more dollars to work now so that we can spend plenty of time together in FIRE.

fuzzy math

  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: When is a CPA "worth it"?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2018, 09:41:18 AM »
I'd say in your situation it's worth it. Might cost you up to $300. Might recoup your fees in savings, but isn;t it also worth something to have peace of mind that it's done correctly? I'd be worried about filing something incorrectly or missing something. My situation this year is different but a similar level of complexity and I will be seeing a CPA. Hoping next year to have a much simplified situation and do them myself.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: When is a CPA "worth it"?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2018, 09:58:52 AM »
Ginger, congrats on owning two properties, finishing your PhD and raking in the $$. Your tax situation is not complicated and since you're interested, you can do the research on your own to confirm what an automated program spits out. I recommend a CPA or EA only when you're operating as a 1099 or a business. Since you say you have a small amount of 1099 income, you should explore deducting business expenses. Good luck!