Rumour has it that tax forms are complicated messes, and that if you do your taxes yourself, you could end up owing your home or, worse, go to jail. Maybe it’s just how people get whenever dealing with the government (ever sweat over a pair jeans you bought going through customs?), or maybe it is what we’ve been told by a basement accountant who takes 15 minutes and $60 of our money to file your return. OK, we may be being a tad dramatic, but the aversion to learning how to file our own tax returns is just as over the top.
Some of us are lucky and “know somebody.” With an accountant for a father, Celia Hammond spent years cruising through tax time. She just gave him all the necessary slips and receipts, and he’d prepare and file the returns for her. But a few years ago, he figured it was time for her to step up. “He said, I either had to do them myself or pay someone to do them,” says the Toronto-based senior policy analyst.
“Many people are just scared of the unknown because they weren’t taught how to file taxes in high school,” says Matt Lisowski, vice president and general manager of the Canada consumer group at Intuit, maker of TurboTax. “There’s the sense of ‘Oh my god, if I make a mistake the government’s going to come after me.’ ”
But, in general, if you have a job, have investments, sold some stock, own a home, have kids, or even if you are self-employed, you can still do your own taxes using software, he says, estimating that accounts for probably for 95% of the population.
DIY approach to personal income tax
Hammond, like thousands of other Canadians who prefer not to shell out for the services of a professional, got some tax software and mentally prepared herself for a slog. To her pleasure, the entire endeavour—including sending the return online to the Canada Revenue Agency—took only a couple of hours.
She followed the prompts provided by the basic TurboTax program, answering questions (such as province of residence and marital status) and inputting information from her T4 slips, RRSP statements and charitable donation receipts. “I also used to include my student loan information [to claim the non-refundable tax credit on interest payments], but not since I paid them off,” she says.
Despite the perception that tax returns are scary or hard to do, most people who use software like TurboTax find the process just as straightforward as Hammond does.
So, if you have a straightforward tax return, with typical tax credits and are reporting income from a T4 or are self-employed as a freelancer, most of the time it is pretty easy to do your taxes yourself. You can follow the Government of Canada’s tax tips or use tax-filing software. And like any kind of Adulting Task, the more you do it, the more confident you become about doing it.