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Old 04.08.2009, 08:02
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Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

Hello,

I have been using a US tax advisor in Zurich for filling my 1040 tax return. He charges a whopping 400 CHF / hour and, even though apparently competent, is not oiviously interested in dealing with "small clients" like me - which has lead him to make some mistakes in filling my taxes.

So, I would like to know:
- what rates such tax advisors file in general.
- as my case is quite "simple" - is it so complicated to file them yourself (I am not at all a tax and / or financial whiz ).

Thanks for any tips!
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  #2  
Old 04.08.2009, 20:28
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

I had the same experience. Many of the CPAs I contacted in Switzerland frankly told me they had no time for me.

I finally caught the attention of a company called USTaxOnline (www.ustaxonline.com). I met one of the directors (Darlene Hart), she was nice and she seemed to be competent. They are mainly based in the UK but they are currently expanding in Switzerland (you're telling me...).

Regarding fees, she mentioned prices starting at 750 USD for a straightforward return. These things don't come cheap.
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Old 08.08.2009, 23:50
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

Geeze, this is really expensive. I am a CPA, maybe I should consider openning a business to provide the service.
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Old 06.06.2011, 19:59
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

Not sure if anything I write here will be of much help, but...
I filed my own taxes, after doing a bit of research to find out exactly what forms I would need (which ended up being only the Form 1040 and the Form 2555 EZ for "Foreign Earned Income Exclusion"). I filed "married, filing separately" since my husband is a Swiss citizen and, naturally, I wasn't going to report his income.
Also, I had emailed the IRS with a couple of questions and (to my pleasant surprise), I received back a really helpful, detailed response from them, which told me exactly what status to choose and which forms to fill out. (And of course, you can download the detailed instructions for these forms online).
However, my situation may be a bit simpler than most. I only work very part-time (for a Swiss employer) and ended up not owing the IRS anything because I didn't earn more than the $91,500 minimum. But I was actually surprised (and relieved) at how easy it was to file on my own.
Good luck!
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Old 06.06.2011, 20:04
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

The last two years I have used someone in Zurich at the cost of about 1k each time.

Next year I may do it myself. ...
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  #6  
Old 06.06.2011, 20:41
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

It depends... I buy the software - taxAct is what I'm using now, and I file for us myself. I'd rather risk the $50 or so it costs than deal with someone who's going to charge me a crapload of money and still screw it up. I was trained as a statistician though, and I don't mind running different scenarios and stuff. It depends on your time, patience and what you feel like doing.
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Old 07.06.2011, 06:31
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

If your filings are straight-forward, you might prefer to use a piece of software and do the work yourself. I've used TurboTax as well as TaxAct, and in my experience, TurboTax is the easier of the two to use if you have overseas income. (TaxAct did okay on my primary return but I had manually override some of the settings to get it to calculate the Alternative Minimum Tax correctly -- not a big deal if you know what you're doing, but if you've assumed that the forms spit out by the software are correct, you'd be in trouble).

You might want to have someone prepare your tax return the first time -- then you can use it as a template in future years. But if you're reasonably competent and comfortable with tax forms, you should be able to manage yourself.
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Old 07.06.2011, 07:11
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

The way I see it...

The cost of professional tax preparation is less than the potential cost of making a mistake, given Uncle Sam's rather draconian penalty structure.

The cost of professional tax preparation is also less than the cost of a lengthy stay in a padded room, which is where I was headed after weeks of wading through convoluted forms, illogical regulations, and incomprehensible tax-speak.

Your mileage may vary.
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Old 07.06.2011, 07:31
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

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Your mileage may vary.
You're not sounding very 'average' though. For most people, the online version of Turbotax works just fine and is like $25. I've used it for years, even when I owned property, and have never been audited by the IRS or had my returns questioned. For a nominal extra fee, you can even get a real person to look at your comleted form, but I've never availed myself of this. It's pretty good about asking questions to try to find you dedcutions.
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Old 07.06.2011, 15:21
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

We used to use turbotax in the US. The first year I did our taxes from here, it didn't have all the forms. Oh, and then I couldn't buy it without a US credit card or address or some stupid thing, so I looked around for something else. But that was like 2008, and I haven't looked again.

As for taxAct, yeah, you have to override a bunch of stuff... but that didn't really bother me...I really want the forms online, and I want online addition - mathematics easy, arithmetic hard. And I don't mind taking a few days and running the taxes different ways... it helps me understand the process. Clearly I have too much time on my hands.

As for mistakes, sure. But apparently "experts" also make mistakes. If I make a mistake, I just say "oops, mistake, guess we'll negotiate a payment plan as needed". I know that I have a sort of relaxed attitude about this crap, but it usually works. Having said that, I'm going to be late this year, i know. But I will file the freakin' FBAR next week.
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Old 07.06.2011, 18:58
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

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The cost of professional tax preparation is also less than the cost of a lengthy stay in a padded room, which is where I was headed after weeks of wading through convoluted forms, illogical regulations, and incomprehensible tax-speak.
Agreed. We both work (more than) full time. It's bad enough just getting all the papers collected, etc. Completing the FBAR fulfills my yearly "desire" to complete U.S. Government forms.
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Old 07.06.2011, 21:34
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

I used Taxact and felt it was sufficient enough. I am not confident that it was 100% fully correct or the legal way to go, but I choose to take that risk. I also considered to hire a professional. I talked to a few based here in CH and the least expensive rate I was able to find was 750 CHF fee for a very basic tax preparation filing. I had a consultation with one of the "big four" accounting firms and there I was quoted a minimum 3000 CHF fee.
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Old 07.06.2011, 21:47
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

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As for mistakes, sure. But apparently "experts" also make mistakes. If I make a mistake, I just say "oops, mistake, guess we'll negotiate a payment plan as needed". I know that I have a sort of relaxed attitude about this crap, but it usually works. Having said that, I'm going to be late this year, i know. But I will file the freakin' FBAR next week.
Turbotax offers and 'audit defense' package.
http://turbotax.intuit.com/corp/auditdefense.jsp
You have to purchase it before you receive notice of an audit though.
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Old 07.06.2011, 21:59
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

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Turbotax offers and 'audit defense' package.
http://turbotax.intuit.com/corp/auditdefense.jsp
You have to purchase it before you receive notice of an audit though.
Yeah, we used to have that when we used turbotax thanks for the reminder..... I forgot about it, though. I'll have to look into turbotax for next year's taxes. Once I get done with this year's.......

I wish I could find the original cite, but I remember reading that if you give 100 CPA's the same tax return, you get 100 different answers, so I guess there must be some acceptable variance around tax returns before you end up audited.
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Old 07.06.2011, 22:02
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

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I wish I could find the original cite, but I remember reading that if you give 100 CPA's the same tax return, you get 100 different answers, so I guess there must be some acceptable variance around tax returns before you end up audited.
You'll get the same from the IRS in my estimation. My dad (RIP) went through a period where he used to get audited every couple of years. He'd actually go down to the IRS and talk to them and take notes. They'd ask him what he was doing and he'd say "Well, Agent Bob says X, Agent Sue says Y, and Agent Sam says Z. Which is it? I'm just trying to do the right thing here." They stopped auditing him after that.
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Old 07.06.2011, 23:37
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

I would hunt around for a cheap but competent US tax advisor, unless you like filling in forms and collecting documents.

Hopefully the money you pay will be saved in a correct tax return.

But that's just me. I'm a lazy SOB.
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Old 10.06.2011, 21:18
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

I just got requested by the IRS to file US returns for the last 6 years. I found a CPA with expat experience located in the States and we managed quite well doing it all by email. The bill: 1347$ for all six years.
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Old 10.06.2011, 21:36
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Re: Filling US TAX: worth hiring an advisor or not?

Quote:
We used to use turbotax in the US. The first year I did our taxes from here, it didn't have all the forms. Oh, and then I couldn't buy it without a US credit card or address or some stupid thing, so I looked around for something else. But that was like 2008, and I haven't looked again.

As for taxAct, yeah, you have to override a bunch of stuff... but that didn't really bother me...I really want the forms online, and I want online addition - mathematics easy, arithmetic hard. And I don't mind taking a few days and running the taxes different ways... it helps me understand the process. Clearly I have too much time on my hands.

As for mistakes, sure. But apparently "experts" also make mistakes. If I make a mistake, I just say "oops, mistake, guess we'll negotiate a payment plan as needed". I know that I have a sort of relaxed attitude about this crap, but it usually works. Having said that, I'm going to be late this year, i know. But I will file the freakin' FBAR next week.
That was my problem with TurboTax - they didn't want to sell it to me when I moved overseas, I got them to send me a copy but then as I recall it didn't do the calculations needed for living abroad. Is that different now?

I used someone here in Germany last year, and since I just contacted him via e-mail and sent him all the paperwork, I would imagine that would work for Switzerland too? Not sure. It was 450 though, and I figured that this year I should be able to do it myself. Have them ready to mail... But if anyone wants his info, I would be happy to share it with you. 2009 tax year was too complicated for me as we moved to Germany, sold a house in the US, were paid in both the US and Germany, and as I had a new baby at the time, I didn't want to try and deal with it!
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