Now you can always choose to tackle the annual chore of filing tax return by 1) learning to file tax yourself, or 2) paying someone else to file your tax. You may think the difference is just the $100 or so you pay someone sitting in the booth in Walmart in April, but it can be much more than that.
Take myself as an example, given that I'm working in Asia, taking paycheck from a US-based company corporate entity, running a sideline business and still having to pay federal income tax in the States, my tax profile is on the complicated end of the spectrum. I'm thankful that my employer is paying KMPG several thousand dollars a year to file my tax. I will never be able to figure out how to navigate the intrigue laws governing federal tax on foreign earned income.
Now I also need to confess I'm a control freak when it comes to managing money, so in each of the past two years, I took KMPG's draft return, and crunch every line again in a mass-market tax software, until I can satisfactorily say I understand how all numbers are tied together to produce my total tax number.
This exercise took me about 10 hours every year, and it is worth every minute I put to it. Why? In each of the past two years, I found at least $2,000 worth of error in my favor. The first year, KMPG classified my business income as US earned instead of foreign-earned, effectively depriving me of the opportunity to offset some of my foreign-paid tax. The second year, KMPG even forgot my employer withhold taxes from my vested restricted stock grants.
I'm not pointing fingers to say those tax preparers are not doing their jobs, but I suspect that they didn't pay enough attention to details, or didn't care to ask, or, maybe, outsourced my tax return to a "sweat shop" in India.
So my conclusion is: the benefit of tax education is worth much more than $100 a year. By educating yourself of essential tax rules, you can take most advantage of the long list of possible deductions and credits, and you can also plan your financial moves with the tax consequences in mind (think about selling a winning stock position, buying a house and seeking a mortgage, etc.). Depending on your tax brackets and tax profile, the value of essential tax knowledge can be in four figures every year.
So where should you start? I started by reading the tax columns of personal finance magazines and sites, and later read a few books like J.K. Lasser's Annual Tax Guide, the Ernst and Young Tax Guide, and The Tax Book for preparers. However, if self-paced reading is not your cup of tea, my advice is to enroll yourself to an income tax course, like the entry-level Income Tax Course (Basic Building Blocks) from H&R Block. For example, it only costs $174 for a 72-hour classroom program in Seattle -- H&R Block subsidizes these courses so it can find future preparers, but even without a future tax preparer career in mind, you can still do yourself a big favor by sitting in the classroom and learn the nuts and bolts of income tax.