The Price of Filing Taxes With a Professional is Rising

Free tax preparation options are available, but read the fine print.

An older couple meets with a financial adviser, looking concerned.
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Federal income tax rates didn’t increase in 2023, so if your personal finances didn’t change much last year, you probably won’t pay much more in taxes. There’s a good chance, though, that you’ll pay more to file your taxes. 

The average cost to have a tax professional prepare an individual federal tax return in 2023 was $248, an increase of more than 16% from 2021, according to a survey by the National Association of Tax Professionals. The price hike primarily stems from inflation and the increased complexity of tax returns, says Jennifer Van Elzen, director of member relations and analytics for the NATP. 

Tax preparers charge for their services in multiple ways, including by the hour or based on the number of tax forms you’re required to file. If your return is fairly simple — you’re claiming the standard deduction instead of itemizing, for example — you may pay less than the average cost. But when it comes to hiring a tax preparer, finding a reputable professional is critical. 

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Start by looking for a preparer who is credentialed — a certified public accountant, an enrolled agent or an attorney. CPAs are licensed by state boards of accountancy, studied accounting at a college or university, and have passed a rigorous exam. Enrolled agents, who are licensed to appear before the IRS, must pass a rigorous test and meet annual continuing-education requirements. 

At a minimum, look for a preparer who participates in the IRS’s annual filing season program, a voluntary program the IRS offers to encourage uncredentialed preparers to take continuing-education courses.

In her recent annual report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins cited uncredentialed tax preparers as one of the most serious problems facing taxpayers. Unscrupulous operators use the tax-preparation process as an opening to sell high-priced loans or hijack personal information to commit identity theft, says Collins. 

Senior citizens with low-to-moderate income are eligible for free tax assistance from the AARP’s Tax-Aide program, which provides trained tax volunteers at sites around the country. You can also arrange for an AARP volunteer to coach you if you want to file online. 

Deals for DIY tax filers

An older man concentrates as he looks over paperwork and uses a calculator.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You can save money by using tax software to prepare and file your taxes, and depending on your income, you may be able to do it for free. If your 2023 adjusted gross income (AGI) was $79,000 or less, you can use IRS Free File to prepare and file your federal tax return (and in some cases your state return) for free. Free File is a partnership between the IRS and tax software providers who have agreed to make their software available at no cost to eligible taxpayers. 

There are some drawbacks. Participating providers are allowed to impose their own criteria, based on age, AGI, state of residency or other factors, so you probably won’t qualify for all of them. More significantly, the major tax software providers, TurboTax and H&R Block, no longer participate in Free File. 

Most tax software providers offer free versions of their programs, but scrutinize the fine print before you start plugging in your numbers. Although these programs allow you to start preparing your return for free, you could be required to upgrade to a paid program for multiple reasons — you contributed to a health savings account, for example. 

In January, the Federal Trade Commission issued an order barring TurboTax from marketing its services as free unless it makes its product free to all taxpayers. The FTC said TurboTax’s advertising is deceptive because two-thirds of taxpayers are ineligible for the free product. “Most taxpayers do not have ‘simple tax returns,’ as defined by [TurboTax parent company] Intuit, and thus do not qualify to file for free using Free Edition,” the FTC said in its order. TurboTax called the order “deeply flawed” and said it will appeal. 

For its part, H&R Block says its 2023 free version includes 43 different tax forms, which will enable even more taxpayers to qualify for the product than in the past. At the same time, the company said that many Americans have complex filing situations that don’t qualify for the free version. Taxpayers who have health savings accounts, for example, must upgrade to H&R Block’s Deluxe product.

You can save money by using products that aren’t as well known as TurboTax and H&R Block. FreeTaxUSA will prepare and e-file your federal tax return for free, even if the return is complex. The company makes money by charging for state tax returns ($14.99 per state). TaxSlayer’s classic version supports all federal tax forms, deductions and credits for $22.95, plus $39.95 for a state tax return (prices here are as of press time and could change). 

If you’re a committed TurboTax or H&R Block software user, look for deals. Many banks and brokerages offer their customers discounts on tax software, and you can also find coupons at websites such as and

What to know about filing directly with the IRS

Meanwhile, the IRS is testing a program that would allow taxpayers to file their federal tax returns directly with the IRS, at no cost. The pilot program, which is being tested in 12 states, is limited to low- and moderate-income taxpayers with simple returns. (To find out whether you qualify, go here.) 

The IRS says Direct File is not intended to replace any of the existing tax preparation programs. Still, the program has faced pushback from tax software providers. In a statement, TurboTax said Direct File was a “solution in search of a problem” because many taxpayers can already file for free.

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Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.