Finding the Right Tax Professional

The following post is from H&R Block, which is one of the largest tax-preparation companies in the country. Remember, this year, you have until Monday, April 18 to file your 2010 taxes!

Like millions of taxpayers this (and every) year, you might be putting off filing taxes because you’re nervous about what you might owe or worried about making a mistake on your return. Asking for help in understanding all the ins and outs of filing your taxes can make the experience less nerve-wracking and overwhelming. Asking for help from H&R Block – one of the most enduring and respected names in the business – can make it almost easy.

Here are some helpful tips from their staff at more than 11,000 offices across the nation to get you started, whatever your personal tax situation might be:

1. Ask about a tax professional’s years of experience and area(s) of specialty. Beware the tax preparer who also sells cars, furniture or other items unrelated to tax return preparation. Sure you might get a screaming deal on your tax prep if you also purchase a washing machine, but does this kind of multi-tasking tax preparer have the knowledge to accurately represent your interests?

2. When it comes to taxes, knowledge can translate into dollars saved. The tax code is always changing, so it’s critical to select a tax professional who receives ongoing training and understands how various tax law changes may affect you. Making sure that whomever you choose has up-to-date training is critical when selecting a tax professional.

3. Know the tax preparer’s area of expertise before allowing them to prepare your taxes. A sick patient wouldn’t see an eye doctor for a head cold and a small business owner shouldn’t consult a tax professional who can’t do small business tax returns.

4. Make sure your tax preparer protects your confidential data. Tax professionals have access to your Social Security number, earnings statements and other private information. Make sure you trust your preparer to review and protect your data.

5. Regardless of who prepares the taxes, the taxpayer is legally responsible for the information on the return. A little research into the best tax professional now can prevent significant financial and legal harm later. Look for a tax professional who guarantees his or her work. Understand what happens if an error is made on your tax return and who is ultimately responsible. Will the accountant pay the resulting penalties and interest or will you be left footing the bill? Seek a reputable tax preparer who won’t hesitate to answer these questions.

6. Stay away from here-today-gone-tomorrow tax preparation services! While taxes are typically prepared January through April, the IRS corresponds with taxpayers throughout the year. So, it’s important to select a tax preparer who’s available year-round. H&R Block prepares taxes year-round. Not only do they understand that every individual and every business is different, they also take responsibility to serve all of those unique needs – whenever they may arise – very seriously.

7. Avoid tax professionals who say they can obtain larger-than-average tax refunds. Refund estimations should be based on deductions and credits taxpayers are legally permitted to claim.

H&R Block has more than 50 years of experience preparing tax returns. Not only do they guarantee their work, they also offer many great services, such as the Second Look Review that allows taxpayers to have their recent tax returns from this year, or even returns prepared up to three years ago by another company, reviewed by an H&R Block tax professional. This review can often find credits and deductions those other tax preparers may have missed and help you make corrections to claim that could lead to a bigger tax refund. You can get a Second Look review for free through March 31.

Similac Formula ($$$), It Is

Our little puddin' face at 6 weeks

I really, really wanted to be able to nurse Baby Frugalista, but a confluence of factors has rendered that nearly impossible.

1. She was premature and underweight, and the hospital/pediatrician told me to wait to breastfeed until we knew she was gaining weight. But I did give her as much measured-out breast milk as I could pump.

2. By the time I got the go-ahead, Baby F was already a month old and had major latching issues and nipple confusion – swinging her head around wildly, not staying put, crying and writhing.

3. I was pumping milk for her the entire time, but without nursing, I was only getting enough for 2-3 feedings a day. Without regular breastfeeding, my supply was dwindling, even though I was pumping every few hours.

4. You name it, I tried it: different latching and hold techniques, expressing some milk first, nipple shields. All to no avail.

In the end, I was completely fried after a few weeks. The cycle went like this: attempt to nurse her for 45 minutes, getting both of us frustrated; bring out the bottled breast milk or formula and feed that for another 45 minutes, then pump for 15-20 minutes. In the beginning, it was practically nonstop with little time in between. Then we’d get to an hour in between. It seemed even crazier than the singular act of trying to nurse a baby that didn’t want it.

I did manage to pump milk until she was nearly 6 weeks old, which is a bit comforting, but I really, really wanted it to work out. Not just for the immunologic reasons, but also for the cost savings. It would have been doubly good!

Moving On

Now, we’re giving our little girl Similac formula 24/7. I’m not thrilled, but it’s the only alternative. Since she was premature, she’s still lagging behind on the infant weight & length curves, and I’m nervous enough about giving her enough nourishment as it is.

This is where coupons and freebies come in. I signed up for the Similac mailing list, which gets me the highly-coveted $5 ‘manufacturer checks’ every once in a while. The company also sent out good-sized freebie samples of the formula we’re using, which saved us a few bucks in the beginning.

Right now, it’s costing $21 weekly for her powdered formula, in the big tub, before coupons. With the $5 Similac manufacturer checks, that gets knocked down to $16, but I don’t have enough checks for every purchase. So my estimate is that it will run $75 a month for formula as long as she continues to take 3-4 ounces per feeding, 8 times a day. Our costs will obviously increase once she ups her intake, then come down a bit again when she starts solid foods in a few months.

But the good news is she’s growing, gaining weight, and thriving, despite her prematurity. The pediatrician thinks she’ll start catching up, growth-wise, in a few months, and that’s all that matters.

Opening a Savings Account for Baby

While the little one is sleeping, I’m going to try to catch up on my blogging!

On Saturday, I managed to sneak out of the house for an hour — okay, I really didn’t “sneak out” — and left 5-week-old Baby Frugalista home with Daddy so I could head to our local bank and open up a savings account for our daughter. She’s gotten some generous cash gifts from family and friends, so I wanted to start her on the road to saving. And who knows how much college will cost in 18 years!

I needed her birth certificate and Social Security card to open the savings account, which is especially for children under 18. I’m the custodian of the account, so both our names are on it. The account gets better interest than the one for adults! It’s still only 1% interest, but that’s better than the paltry .65% we’re getting. The bank associate even gave me a gift bag for the baby, a little green piggy bank, and a coloring book with crayons. Obviously, she’s too young, but it was nice of them.

So now there’s the start of a nice little nest egg, and we’re going to keep it growing by making a deposit every month.

Did you open a savings account for your child right away? How long did you wait to do it?

H&R Block Premium Edition Tax Software Giveaway: Win One of 5 Copies!

Every year, I scour the federal and state tax codes to see what’s new before filing our taxes. I want to know if there’s a new deduction or tax credit so I don’t miss out on getting some more of my hard-earned money back from the government. This year, you have an extra three days to file your taxes — until Monday, April 18. Check out this post I wrote for Rainy-Day Saver for an explanation of the extension.

Do you want to ensure you receive a fat refund or reduce your tax liability? Then this giveaway is for you! Enter to win one of five copies of H&R Block’s At Home Premium Edition tax software, courtesy of the fine folks at H&R Block. Winners will receive a key code enabling them to file their 2010 FEDERAL taxes online — FOR FREE! This is especially great for those of you who tend to wait until the last minute to file — with online filing, you won’t have to even leave the house.

The giveaway is valued at $55, which covers the $49.95 cost of filing your federal taxes by using the software, plus any sales tax you may incur upon redeeming the code.

If you’re one of my lucky winners, you can get started on filing your federal tax return HERE. When you’ve finished, enter the code I’ll provide you with for free filing. (NOTE: If you want to do your state taxes, it’s an additional $34.95, and not covered by this giveaway).

Some highlights of H&R Block’s At Home Premium Edition software

It’s for most taxpayers, including homeowners, investors, the self-employed and rental property owners.

All H&R Block tax prep solutions include:

  • Maximum refund guarantee – finds all the deductions and credits you’re entitled to
  • Free federal e-filing – get your refund in as few as eight days!
  • Accurate calculations guarantee and free audit support
  • Easy importing of your W-2, 1099 and last year’s info (even if H&R Block didn’t do your taxes)

Learn about H&R Block At Home Online Tax Preparation Software and all that’s in the Premium Edition.

How to Enter the Giveaway

The giveaway ends on FRIDAY, MARCH 18 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Be sure to get your entries in before then to have a chance at this free H&R Block At Home Premium online tax software! Winners will be chosen via random.org and will be announced on Monday, March 21.

1. Leave a comment on this post about what you love (or hate!) most about doing your taxes. Be sure to include your e-mail address when filling out the form so I can contact you if you’re a winner! (E-mails are private and won’t be displayed).

2. If you don’t already, subscribe to The Penny Frugalista. You can subscribe via Feedburner or e-mail.

That’s all! Be sure to enter by the giveaway deadline to be in it to win it!

Little Bites: Tax Filing Time & Other Chores

Holy crap, it’s March. The past month has been a blur of unexpectedly early motherhood and all the sleepless nights, diaper changes and constant feedings that come with it — and it’s been wonderful. We were caught fairly unprepared when Baby Frugalista arrived five weeks early, but thanks to family and friends, we were able to get our home ready for our new addition. They came through with meals, clothes, diapers and assorted little things that we had yet to pick up.

Now we’re settled into a routine — or as much of a routine as possible with a premature newborn. She’s gaining a lot of weight and growing at a good pace. One thing I’ve found is that our normal budget has been turned upside down. We have to factor in diapers and formula, and I’ve found that my $200 monthly grocery budget has increased to reflect that.

Now that I’m out of work on maternity leave for 6 months to spend as much time with my little girl as possible — and only getting disability and family leave payments for 3 of those — we really need to watch our spending. I’d prepared for the 3 months without income by amping up my freelance gigs while pregnant (because I’m nuts), but that doesn’t mean we should burn through that reserve. Gas prices are headed toward uncharted territory — again — and I’m happy I don’t have commuting costs for the next few months. I just filled up the gas tank the other day, and I’m sure I won’t have to refill it for a day or two. I only bought lunch at work maybe once or twice a month, but that’s a little bit of savings, too.

We’re going to do our taxes this weekend and we’re expecting a nice refund thanks to the mortgage interest and property tax deductions. I’d like to change our withholding status on our W-4 forms at work from “O” to “1” or “2” — it’s better that we get that money put back in our paychecks, rather than get it in a large tax refund.

Other things we’re working on:

Medical Coverage — We’ve added the baby to our health insurance, provided by Mr. NSF’s employer. The pre-tax cost has increased two-fold just to add one little person. Amazing, right? So instead of $220 per month in paycheck deductions, the cost will be $440 monthly.

Will — We do not have a will as of yet, and this is something I’m going to look into. There are advantages and disadvantages to wills (enough for a separate blog post), but there are other options, too, such as payable-on-death designations on accounts.

Life Insurance — Although we have some life insurance coverage through our employers, we’ll lose it if we change jobs. I’ll have to see if getting our own policies is advantageous, in case the unthinkable happens to one of us. We want to make sure our daughter is provided for and that we could keep our home in the event something happens to one of us.

I’m sure there are other things we need to consider, but I think this is a pretty good list to start with.