When You're in a Hole, Stop Digging (taxes edition)
February 1, 2020 8:24 PM   Subscribe

What kind of tax professional am I looking for?

My mental health issues include massive, debilitating anxiety attacks around money and bureaucracy. I have years of un-filed state and federal taxes. I want it fixed so I can stop obsessing over consequences. Who can help me fix it?

- I'm lowish middle class with not a lot of disposable income for professional services. A $300/hr attorney is not in the picture.
- All w-2 income.
- No real estate or complicated assets.
- No dependents.
- I'm don't need to get tricky for some optimal outcome. I just want it done. Soon.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe talk to an Enrolled Agent
posted by Sophont at 8:57 PM on February 1, 2020

You might find this information helpful:


posted by zdravo at 9:12 PM on February 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

For federal taxes, you might look into the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. It's free and you can use it if you make less a certain amount ("lowish middle class" probably qualifies, depending on where you live) or are disabled. I've taken advantage of it a couple of times and had positive experiences, and in my case, if I recall correctly, the VITA site was in a public library.

I'm not sure if they'll assist with filing previous years, as most sites close up after taxes are due, but if nothing else you could use it to file for 2019.
posted by pullayup at 9:15 PM on February 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

This problem is almost certainly nowhere near as bad as you think it will be.

If you're a W2 employee with nothing tricky, assuming your withholdings are right, you might well be owed a refund instead of the other way around. If you don't owe money, there are no penalties or interest for failing to file. After a certain number of years, you are no longer eligible for a refund you might otherwise be due, that's the main reason you should be hurrying to get this done before April (when another year becomes ineligible).

You could probably file yourself using back versions of TurboTax or even just the 1040-EZ or whatever. It depends on how simple your situation is.

But with debilitating anxiety about this, I recommend you find a tax person. They charge $200-350/return, but if your situation is simple and you have a bunch of years, maybe you can negotiate a bulk deal. I think I did three for $500 back when I was in your shoes, and I was even a consultant for part of that time.

How to find them: ask around at work ("Say, do you do your own taxes or have an accountant? Taxes always take me forever so I'd love to find an accountant this year.") or look on Google or Yelp or whatever. Don't stress too much about finding the right person. If you were trying to do some sort of advanced tax planning, then quality would really matter, but for what you are doing, anyone will likely be fine. They don't actually even have to be local.

You'll feel so much better once this is done. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 10:22 PM on February 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

You could also consider just a trusted friend who will sit down with you and the free file program of your choice. I would do absolutely do this for a friend, or heck, for you (but you probably shouldn’t share all your financial info to an unqualified stranger from the internet).

I was once in your shoes with 7 years of unfiled taxes (basically my whole working life at that point) and massive anxiety about it. When the IRS started garnishing my wages it finally motivated me to try to do my taxes on my own because I also had massive anxiety about hiring a tax professional (and not a lot of extra cash since they were garnishing my wages!). It took me a few days to gather up the documents, a few hours to fill out the paperwork (can’t remember how much was online back then) and a few weeks for the IRS to process everything.

Do you have a therapist? Would it help to devote a therapy session to this?
posted by mskyle at 4:32 AM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I work at a Tax Aide site (similar to VITA) and we can help with previous years, however it does vary how far back we can go, because you have be certified in that year. We have people who have been doing this for ten years, but our software only goes back to 2016. Be sure to check both links at the bottom of that page to find a place near you.

We are just getting started for the year and you can make an appointment. Our appointment setter does not know the specific years we can do, but yours might so let them know you have multiple years. Then bring everything you have divided by year and they will let you know how far back they can go. I would just suggest not getting an appointment late in the day since your will take longer. Be willing to come back another day if they can't get everything done that day.

This a very common thing for people to have anxiety around and I want to second that I would totally help out a friend with getting any years they can't get done thru Vita or TaxAide. The IRS website and your state's tax department website should both have the forms available for download for previous years. They are busy right now, but they should also have phone numbers that you can call with questions. Again, some of your friends might be willing to help you with that.
posted by soelo at 6:29 AM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

You may be feeling tremendous shame. But this is a very common scenario. Lots of people get stressed and terrified about taxes, don't file, then get even more stressed, and pretty soon it's several years. Last year I filed 4 years of taxes using FreeTaxUSA online. Literally just filled in the forms, printed the tax returns, photocopied, mailed. State taxes, too. I got a bunch of money back, and not so much as a side-eye from the IRS. I *had* to get it done in time for ACA requirements

I'm in Maine, can travel as far as Boston if you need someone to sit with you at a library while you do the forms. Libraries are always a great resource, go ask if they know of a tax helper program.

Last resort, HR Block or similar. They kind of overcharge for some returns, but you can take your stuff in and they'll do the returns competently. If by any chance you owe, the IRS does payment plans. You probably won't owe.

I'll reiterate, this is a common thing. It's not terribly difficult to resolve. You will probably get money back. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 7:11 AM on February 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I nth the VITA program if you qualify (and if you don't, they may be able to refer you to a different local program that can assist).

And yes - this is super, super common. I used to work with someone who ran a low income tax assistance clinic and people contacted her literally every day with similar situations. It's so easy to procrastinate on taxes until you're late, then get overwhelmed and anxious and not file at all!
posted by insectosaurus at 7:47 AM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

A friend helped me with this exact problem two years ago. If a friend or relative can help you with this, ask for help. Don't expect to do it all in one day. Budget 2 hours max for each meeting, make a plan (gather documents for X years, organize docs, etc.), set up work dates with your tax buddy, and get started.

Need help gathering the documents? Ask for help with that as well or hire someone to help gather or organize the documents. Any time you spend chipping away with this is valuable. You can do this in 10-minute chunks if you want. You don't need a special tax professional to help with this but if you want a professional, then ask friends/colleagues for referrals. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 5:20 PM on February 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

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