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Kristin Murphy, Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Alan and Kim Hawkins talk about taxes with their accountant Simon Cross, not pictured, at his office in Murray on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013.
There was always a Saturday in February where I had a migraine from doing the taxes. —Alan Hawkins

SALT LAKE CITY — Alan and Kim Hawkins of South Jordan had a routine. Alan, a financial adviser for a large bank, spent the better part of a weekend each year combing through various receipts and documents with Kim, and inputting information into a tax preparation software program.

"There was always a Saturday in February where I had a migraine from doing the taxes," Alan Hawkins said. "And they were fairly simple taxes. A few years ago, I just didn't want to deal with it."

That's when he contacted a friend who is a certified public accountant to "see if they were worth their salt." He said the decision paid off for him in the very first year.

"It was phenomenal the amount of return he was able to get for us versus what I had been doing," he said sitting in the Salt Lake City office of Simon Cross and Associates. "Ever since then, it's been easy to come here."

Hawkins said he would "never go back to doing it on my own."

"They're going to get you what's coming to you," said Kim Hawkins about using a tax expert. "So it's worth the money you're going to spend."

From tax professionals to online programs that help you do it yourself, tax preparation today offers perhaps more options than ever before.

The cost of enlisting the help of a CPA or other tax professional can range greatly, from $100 to more than $500 in some cases.

Tax services like Jackson Hewlett or H&R Block typically charge between $40 for simple returns to several hundred dollars for more complex returns. Separate fees can also be added for filing federal or state returns. Many services offer loan programs at an additional cost based on a taxpayer's anticipated refund.

For the "do-it-yourselfer," online tax return programs or computer software usually start around $50, with some adding fees to file federal or state returns electronically.

Here are taxes by the numbers:

According to the IRS, approximately 60 percent of those who file an individual federal income tax return will choose to use a paid tax preparer, while about 40 percent will prepare the tax return themselves or obtain free community-based tax assistance.

This year, the IRS projects 152 million individual tax returns will be filed across the country for tax year 2012. Last year, that number was 149 million.

In Utah, the IRS projects 1,189,000 Utahns will file 2012 tax returns — up from 1,167,000 the previous year.

Approximately 75 percent of all taxpayers overpay and receive a tax refund, according to IRS spokesman Bill Brunson.

In Utah, the 2012 year-end refund average was $638, said Charlie Roberts, spokesman for the Utah Tax Commission. Out of 1,179,469 returns, 789,303 — or 67 percent — produced a refund.

Nationwide last year, about three million-plus taxpayers had their taxes prepared through a local community tax help site — Tax Counseling for the Elderly sponsored by AARP or the IRS Volunteer Individual Tax Assistance program. Both the TCE and VITA programs offer free tax help for taxpayers who qualify.

The VITA Program offers tax aid to people who make $51,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities, explained Roger Condie, program coordinator at Community Action Project of Utah.

Volunteers can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations. For more information, visit www.irs.gov/Individuals/Find-a-Location-for-Free-Tax-Prep.

The TCE Program offers free tax help to people who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement issues unique to seniors. IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.

In addition to traditional face-to-face tax preparation, the IRS is offering a self-assistance service at many VITA and TCE locations. If individuals have a simple tax return and need a little help or do not have access to a computer, they can visit one of the participating tax preparation sites and a volunteer will guide them through the process.

For help or information on tax assistance in Utah, dial 211 or visit .www.utahtaxhelp.org/.

Taxpayers can also visit irs.gov or dial 1-800-829-1040 (individuals) or 1-800-829-4933 (businesses).

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