Before you ask yourself, as I know you will, “Why you should take tax advice from a fitness/mommy blogger?”; I will share with you my qualifications to pontificate on all things accounting…

In my former life I worked for about 15 years as a partnership tax consultant/preparer. I also dabbled in the preparation of individual returns. I graduated from Bryant University and achieved a masters in taxation at Bentley University. My career started at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLC in Boston and moved out to the suburbs after baby #2, where I continued with Pavento, Ratcliffe, Renzi & Co., LLC. During my term with Pavento, I got a chance to sharpen my pencil and do some technical writing. This blog is modified from an article I wrote for that firm.

A common dilemma when tax season descends, is whether or not you should prepare your own tax return. The answer is both personal and subjective. Below are several important considerations that can guide you in making the decision.

1. Weigh the value of your time against the value of the money you will spend to hire a professional. If you earn more per hour than the per hour fee to be charged for preparation, the choice is a no brainer. If not, you still may put a higher value on time spent with family, working out or socializing.

2. How complicated is your return? Do you itemize your deductions? Do you have children, children with earned income, children in college? Do you have dependents over 18? Do you run a business or rent property? Do you work from home? Do you maintain investments in the stock market? Do you buy and sell investments frequently? Have you bought or sold a home during the year? Do you work in one state, but live in another? Do you invest in energy efficient property? If you are answering yes to any of these questions, and the average taxpayer will, then there is the possibility that you could be missing opportunities for deductions and perhaps more importantly for tax planning to minimize your liability over time.

3. Are you subject to dreaded and misunderstood AMT or alternative minimum tax? What, you ask even is AMT? A client gave this insightful description:

Because I am investing wisely, managing my finances and tax planning well, the IRS is not getting what they expected from me. Therefore, they will recalculate my tax liability to make sure they get what they want.”

AMT used to be a “rich” man’s penalty, but is affecting the middle class on a swiftly increasing scale.

4. What is your risk tolerance? How confident you are interacting with the IRS? Do you feel capable of preparing and filing a return, asking a question, receiving notices, correcting mistakes, or defending your tax positions against an IRS agent?

After evaluating these questions, you will likely have a “gut” feeling on whether or not you should prepare your return or hire a professional. Go with your gut.

If you choose to prepare your own return, there are many free and inexpensive programs that will walk you through the process of inputting your data. Note that these programs are extremely helpful, but only as accurate as the information you put in to them. The typical software interview process provided can be time consuming. Furthermore, the software assumes that you know the implications of the questions being asked, how to obtain the information required and what the benefit or consequence will be to you.

If you choose to work with a professional, you need to find a firm that is a good match for you. Determine the level of service you desire. Then, interview preparers to find someone you feel comfortable with and trust. I do not recommend “storefront” preparers. I suggest a certified public accountant that provides a year round relationship as a trusted adviser.

Whatever your decision for the current year, I strongly advise that once every three to five years you go for a financial “check up.” Allow a professional to review several years of returns and make sure you are not missing any deductions or planning opportunities. If nothing else, this will provide you security in your decision to continue preparing your own tax return.