It's Your Money  

Online or accountant: What's best at tax time?

Best way to do your taxes

As tax season approaches, Canadians are faced with the perennial question, "should I use online tax filing software or hire a professional accountant?"

With the rise of technology, online tax filing software has become increasingly popular, offering convenience and affordability. However, there are instances where the expertise of a professional accountant is invaluable. Understanding when to use each option is crucial for maximizing tax efficiency and minimizing stress.

Online tax filing software has revolutionized the way individuals manage their taxes. These platforms provide user-friendly interfaces, guiding users through the process step by step. For many Canadians with straightforward tax situations, such as employees with T4 income and basic deductions, online software offers a quick and cost-effective solution.

Moreover, these platforms often integrate with financial institutions and government databases, streamlining the process of importing relevant information.

One of the primary advantages of online tax filing software is its affordability. Many platforms offer free versions for individuals with simple tax returns, making it accessible to a wide range of taxpayers.

Additionally, the automated calculations reduce the likelihood of errors, ensuring accurate filings. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who prefer a DIY approach and have confidence in their ability to navigate the tax system.

However, there are limitations to online tax filing software, particularly when dealing with complex tax situations. Canadians with multiple sources of income, self-employment income, investment portfolios, or significant deductions may find the software inadequate. In such cases, the expertise of a professional accountant is indispensable.

Here are scenarios where Canadians should consider hiring professional help:

Self-employment income: Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners often have complex tax obligations, including business expenses, deductions, and self-employment taxes. A professional accountant can ensure compliance with tax laws and maximize deductions, ultimately reducing the tax burden.

Investment income: Individuals with diverse investment portfolios, including stocks, bonds, and real estate, face intricate tax implications. Capital gains, dividends, and rental income require careful consideration to optimize tax efficiency. A professional accountant can provide strategic advice to minimize taxes and maximize returns.

High net worth individuals: Affluent Canadians with substantial assets and complex financial holdings benefit from personalized tax planning services. Professional accountants can devise sophisticated strategies to mitigate tax liabilities, preserve wealth, and ensure compliance with intricate tax laws.

Life events: Significant life events such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, or the birth of a child can have profound tax implications. Professional accountants can offer guidance on navigating these transitions and leveraging tax credits and deductions available to individuals in different life stages.

Tax audits or disputes: Facing a tax audit or dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can be daunting. Professional accountants have experience in representing clients during audits and negotiations with tax authorities, ensuring fair treatment and favourable outcomes.

While online tax filing software offers convenience and affordability for many Canadians, there are instances where the complexity of one's financial situation necessitates the expertise of a professional accountant.

I’m all for saving money where you can but sometimes, spending on professional services can save you far more than it costs and avoid potential headaches. By taking the time to genuinely look at your own situation and understand the nuances of each option, you can make an informed decision on which path is right for you.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Brett Millard is vice-president and a member of the executive leadership team at FP Canada, the national professional body for the financial planning industry. A not-for-profit organization, FP Canada works in the public interest to foster better financial health for all Canadians by leading the advancement of professional financial planning in Canada. 

He has worked in the financial advice industry for more than 15 years and is designated as a chartered investment manager (CIM) and is a certified financial planner (CFP).

He has written a weekly financial planning column since 2012 and provides his readers with easy to understand explanations of the complex financial challenges they face in every stage of life. Enhancing the financial literacy of Canadian consumers is a top priority for Brett and his ongoing efforts as a finance writer focus on that initiative. 

Please let Brett know if you have any topics you’d like him to cover in future columns ,or if you’d like a referral to a qualified CFP professional in your area, by emailing him at [email protected].


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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