Welcome to Taking Stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the current state of the economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult, emotionally charged questions about money. These last few years have forced many of us to reprioritize our finances — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
Yasmin, 30 – London
Yasmin has been a full-time freelancer since 2014, and she’s currently running multiple businesses. “Up until recently, I have always done my taxes myself. I just switched from being freelance to bringing my businesses under a Limited Company, so I now have an accountant to help me be more tax efficient,” she tells Refinery29. “I have always used QuickBooks to help me with my tax returns. I set rules for certain expenses to be allocated as business expenses, and run through my account about a month before the deadline to ensure everything is in order.”
“The biggest horror story I've encountered recently is actually in trying to switch from doing my taxes myself to using an accountancy firm,” she says. “The firm I first signed up with accidentally sent me an internal email with the tax and income details for a completely different company — I had documents sent to me with their personal details, including their names, address, and salary! Needless to say, I lost complete confidence in the firm and switched.”
Julia, 38 – South Carolina
Julia started her own business in 2021. “Last year, in my first year of business, I did my Schedule C by myself. I made more in 2022 (not much!) and used the United Way VITA program to do my taxes,” she tells Refinery29. “In South Carolina you can file federal and state for free if you’re under a certain income threshold. My salary has always stayed under that in my 17 year career, so I’ve never paid to file my taxes or for tax prep.”
“I went to my local library on a Friday and met with the volunteer tax clerk,” she continues. Julia was told she owes about $2,500 in mostly social security taxes. “I’ve never had to pay before, but I was expecting to pay this year. I made a joke that I wish I could pay myself in my IRA instead of the IRS, and the tax guy goes, ‘well you can!’” she says. “He explained how my income was under a threshold where I could make an IRA contribution by April 15 and I wouldn’t owe the IRS anything. I’m trying to scrounge up that other $2,500 because I want to look out for future Julia instead of just getting by (again) as present me.”
Julia’s tax tip is to seek out free filing from your states’ department of revenue. “They will have a list of participating vendors. Anyone can ask about the VITA program through United Way by dialing 211,” she says. “Being broke sucks, but it sucks less when you have resources that save you money.”
Annie, 31 – New York
Annie’s dad worked at the IRS for 42 years, so she’s only done her taxes herself once or twice. “This year I'm doing them myself because I have only one W-2 for the first time in a while,” she tells Refinery29. “I will admit having an IRS dad is a major perk but the first time I did my own taxes I was actually really proud! I like doing them myself because it makes me feel financially independent.”
The highest she’s ever owed? Almost $7,000. “I'm pretty sure my last job did some questionable stuff financially because even though I was full-time, I got paid as a permalancer, so they didn't take any taxes out,” she says. Annie still has not paid her taxes from last year, which means she owes a bit more now. “My cat had cancer last year and I had to pay something like $13,000-$15,000 overall for her treatments so I decided that I would deal with my taxes later when I had less horrible life things to go through,” she says. “I know that's irresponsible. But.... I'll pay it all off, late fees and all, when I file this year.”
Dawn, 30 – Pennsylvania
Up until this year, Dawn had been using TurboTax because it was “easy, affordable, and convenient.” This year, she says she no longer qualifies for the service because she got married and her husband is an immigrant. [Although TurboTax doesn't support IRS Form 1040-NR (U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return), they have partnered with Sprintax to offer federal and state tax preparation for international students, scholars, and nonresident foreign professionals, according to their website.]
“This year is the most I have ever owed: over $2,000. Last year was a close second,” she says. “I normally received a refund. This is crazy to me because according to the government I don't qualify to sponsor my husband's citizenship, as I am not far enough above the poverty line.” Dawn is currently trying to figure out how to pay their taxes this year. “The only options are a payment plan or request to file later,” they say.
“The biggest shock, thus far, was how difficult it is for immigrants to file and me having six W-2s (despite mostly being at or below minimum wage) means I owe more in taxes,” she says.
Ilia, TK – California
Ilia I usually does her taxes herself using a tax preparation software. “The process is relatively straightforward, and the software guides me through the necessary steps,” she says. “Personally, I prefer doing my taxes myself because it gives me a better understanding of my financial situation. However, I have heard horror stories of people who have used tax services and were charged exorbitant fees for simple tax returns.”
“The most I have owed in taxes is around $10,000, and the least is around $500. I have never been unable to pay my taxes due to financial hardship, but I have filed them late a few times, which resulted in some minor penalties,” she says.
“The biggest shock I experienced when filing taxes was discovering that I had missed a crucial deduction that could have saved me hundreds of dollars,” she says. “I have also made the mistake of submitting an incorrect social security number, which led to some complications.”