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You need your personal taxes done and they're not that complex, so you think you'll just run right over to H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, or some other tax preparation franchise. It's easy and they must be good or they wouldn't have so many locations and be in business so long, right?

Wrong. The fact of the matter is that you're taking a big risk if you have your taxes done at one of the large tax return sweatshops or a similar smaller service. These companies have a few major drawbacks that most consumers are unaware of:

The prices they charge are generally too high. Even the simplest of tax returns can cost you well over $100, and that type of fee is just too much. Add in some things like a rental property or an in-home business, and watch your tab for the tax return run up fast.

The name of the game at the tax return franchises is turning out as many tax returns as fast as they can, at the lowest possible cost. This means that most of the employees are inexperienced data entry clerks who really know next to nothing about the tax law. They couldn't spot an opportunity or a problem with your tax situation if their life depended on it. Do you really want to risk having your taxes prepared by someone who took a day-long class to learn how to enter data into a computer program?

These places make a lot of their money by selling you other products, like refund anticipation loans or other nifty-sounding services to get your money to you fast. Selling these worthless products is how they really make their money. The fees for these things are way too high and not worth the cost. If you file your taxes electronically and request direct deposit of your refund, you should have your money from the IRS within a few weeks. Why waste money on a service you don't really need when you can get your refund so quickly for free?

What's the alternative to the H&R Blocks and the Jackson Hewitts? If your tax situation is very simple, you can purchase tax software to do the taxes on your own. If you're not comfortable with that, look for a local Certified Public Accountant who does lots of income tax returns. They are generally much more experienced with taxes and can be priced very competitively.

Forensic accountant Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations through her company, Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners honored Tracy as the 2007 winner of the prestigious Hubbard Award and her first book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud, will be on bookshelves in March 2008.

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TurboTax Articles

Cities with the Lowest Tax Rates

The total amount of tax you pay reaches far beyond what you owe the federal government. Depending on where you live, most likely you're required to pay additional taxes, including property and sales tax. The disparity between the amount of tax you pay in a low-tax city and that in a high-tax city can be dramatic. Living in any of these 10 cities could save you a bundle, although the exact amount may fluctuate based on your income and lifestyle choices.

Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

Much ado is made in the press about federal tax brackets, but cities can carry a tax bite of their own. Even if you live in a state that has no income tax, your city may levy a variety of taxes that could eat away the entire benefit of living in an income tax-free state, including property taxes, sales taxes and auto taxes. Consider all the costs before you move to one of these cities, and understand that rates may change based on your family's income level.

Great Ways to Get Charitable Tax Deductions

Generally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as a deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

A Freelancer's Guide to Taxes

Freelancing certainly has its benefits, but it can result in a few complications come tax time. The Internal Revenue Service considers freelancers to be self-employed, so if you earn income as a freelancer you must file your taxes as a business owner. While you can take additional deductions if you are self-employed, you'll also face additional taxes in the form of the self-employment tax. Here are things to consider as a freelancer when filing your taxes.

Tax Deductions for Voluntary Interest Payments on Student Loans

Most taxpayers who pay interest on student loans can take a tax deduction for the expense ? and you can do this regardless of whether you itemize tax deductions on your return. The rules for claiming the deduction are the same whether the interest payments were required or voluntary.

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