Can I Do My Own Business Taxes?

How to File Your Business Taxes by Yourself

preparing business taxes
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January 12, 2015

You are a business owner, ready to do your business tax return. Can you do this return by yourself? What are the possible types of help you can get for preparing this business tax return?

The Most Important Fact to Remember, No Matter Who Does Your Business Taxes

First, remember that no matter who does your taxes, you as a business owner are ultimately responsible for your tax return, and you alone are answerable to the IRS if the return is fraudulent or inaccurate.

Who can do a business tax return depends on the type of return to be prepared.

Preparing Your Own Schedule C

A simple Schedule C for a sole proprietor business is a lot different from a complex corporate or partnership tax return. The complexity of the return you need will dictate to a large degree the type of preparer you need. If the Schedule C includes the manufacture or sale of products (requiring a cost of goods sold  calculation), it gets more complicated, and there is more possibility of error.

Preparing a Partnership or Corporate Tax Return

Preparing a tax return for a partnership or LLC is more difficult because it involves first the calculation of income or loss, then a distribution of that income or loss among the partners or LLC members. This gets trickier and increases the possibility of error.

A corporate return (including a return for an S corporation) is the most difficult type of tax return, especially if there are shareholders and if the owners work in the business.

This article on Tax Returns for Business Types might help you see the complexity of the return you will need to file.

Bottom Line: It Depends on the Complexity of the Return

To answer the question simply, (1) If you have a very simple Schedule C with no cost of goods sold, it's possible to do the return yourself, using tax prep software.

But (2) in all other cases, I'd suggest getting professional help. It's always better to have a professional doing the job you hire them to do. You wouldn't do your own wiring in the office, would you? Then let a tax pro help you with your business tax return.

Considerations in Looking for Tax Preparers

Let's say you've decided you need help with preparing your business tax return. What are the possible

1. Is this preparer knowledgeable about current tax law? A tax preparer must know the ins and outs of tax preparation for the current year. Gone are the days when a preparer had volumes of tax law updates to pour through, so in the 21st century, this knowledge comes from excellent tax software - I mean for the professionals, not just the average person.

2. Can this preparer give you advice, not just prepare the tax filing documents? Again, anyone can prepare your taxes, but it's of more value to you as a business person to get tax advice on a continuing basis, throughout the year, and before tax time, to keep your taxes legitimately as low as possible.

3. Can this preparer represent you before the IRS? If you get that audit notice, can you call this person and discuss your return? Maybe, but the more important question is whether your preparer can go with you to an audit or go in your place.

This is really where the "rubber meets the road," so to speak. Getting your taxes prepared is easy, but getting through an audit is a bigger deal entirely.

Who can prepare business taxes?

There are two types:

  • Enrolled preparers, who are registered with the IRS and who can sign tax returns and help with tax audits.
  • Unenrolled preparers, who cannot sign tax returns or help with tax audits. An accountant who is not a CPA is considered an unenrolled preparer and this person cannot sign your tax return.

If you want skilled help, and someone to sign your tax return, you must get a registered tax preparer, also called an enrolled preparer. Preparers who are paid to do tax returns and sign off on the returns must be registered with the IRS and get a Preparer Tax ID Number.

Looking for an Enrolled/Registered Preparer?

If you want someone to sign your tax return and help with audits, consider either an Enrolled Agent or a CPA.

  • Enrolled agents have earned this designation through a rigorous test of tax law and are specifically employed to help with tax issues.
  • CPA's are accountants who have passed a licensing exam in a state. CPA's can deal with accounting and payroll issues in addition to tax issues.

Enrolled agents and CPA's can represent you if you are audited by the IRS. If you need to go to Tax Court with an issue, it's best to get a tax attorney to help with this process.

Read more about ​Getting Help with Business Taxes.