turbotax vs cpa

TurboTax LIVE vs. CPA: Which Is Better? (I Tried Both!)

I’m self-employed and hate taxes. I’m one of those people who would rather do a number of awful things like cleaning toilets instead.

Also, I’ve always assumed that I needed a CPA (certified public accountant) to guide me through this painful process like a tax sherpa or doula.

But, paying is an accountant really a necessary expense?

For years I’ve saved every piece of mail that says, “Important Tax Document Enclosed” in a big folder to organize later for my accountant. I’ll stare anxiously at this tax folder for weeks until April 1st arrives and things get real.

This is also the time of year when I’ll get a terse email from my CPA reminding me of my procrastination.

So, with my back against the wall, I’ll spend hours scanning tax forms and adding up numbers on a Google Doc so that I can present everything to my CPA to file at an exorbitant price.

Hmmm… What if I could climb this metaphorical tax mountain on my own? Could I actually cut my CPA out of this equation altogether and save significant money?

It seemed possible, so I decided to take the plunge and cut the cord with my CPA and filed my own taxes with TurboTax Premium with Live Assistance this year! Here is the best deal on TurboTax LIVE plus my thoughts about using a CPA vs. TurboTax after the experience.

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TurboTax vs CPA: CPA benefits | TurboTax benefits | Cost comparison | Which is better | How to switch

1. The Benefits of Using a CPA (Accountant):

certified public accountant retro

I like to think that humans are special and not replaceable in numerous ways. However, when I Googled, “benefits of using a CPA,” I noticed that most of the articles were written by accounting firms, probably motivated by self-preservation.

That’s because tax software has evolved in recent years, and top brands like TurboTax now offer optional live assistance from a tax expert at the click of a button.

While there are still benefits to using a CPA, I believe that most of these advantages are negated by incorporating LIVE assistance or Full-Service into TurboTax.

In my opinion, this leaves only a few advantages to using a CPA including:

  1. Saves time: Time is money, and using a CPA should reduce the amount of time you spend getting your hands dirty entering tax data
  2. Familiarity: Using the same CPA should foster a personal relationship which can help them better understand your unique tax situation, especially if it is complex
  3. Candy jar: My CPA always has a jar of candy on his desk (am I reaching here?)

As you can see, I’m struggling to find other reasons why a CPA is better than TurboTax LIVE, especially because TurboTax offers a maximum refund guarantee and audit support.

Now, let’s talk about the benefits of using TurboTax LIVE versus a CPA.

2. Benefits of TurboTax LIVE:

I was nervous about making the switch from my CPA to TurboTax LIVE Assisted but I felt empowered after doing so.

Here are the potential benefits of using TurboTax LIVE versus a CPA.

  1. Cost: The most significant benefit to using TurboTax instead of an accountant is the expense, as TurboTax should cost significantly less. In my case, TurboTax Premium LIVE costs about $200 less than my CPA.
  2. Convenience: Work at your own pace without squeezing into a timeslot on your CPA’s calendar. I found this very helpful as there were times I needed to locate forms and numbers, then log back on hours or days later
  3. File from home: My accountant is 20 miles away, and I always dreaded the drive to his office. What if I’m late? What if I forgot something? TurboTax LIVE also lets you share your online screen (only) with a tax expert so that they see exactly what you see
  4. No pressure: My CPA hates that I give him my tax info in April when he’s already overwhelmed. TurboTax LIVE experts are like the voice of my GPS; just guiding me to my destination without attitude or emotion. Even in April!
  5. Always available: TurboTax and their live tax experts are always available, so you can access your return any time day or night
  6. Accuracy guarantee: I don’t think my CPA made any math errors, but he’s only human. TurboTax will guarantee the accuracy of their calculations
  7. Audit representation: TurboTax provides full audit representation and identity theft protection with a Max upgrade for under $70. Your CPA may charge hundreds of dollars an hour for audit representation (source)

3. Can TurboTax Replace My CPA?

hal 9000 computer

You’ve probably heard a lot about how AI is already putting jobs like CPAs at risk. Could an entire career field that has flourished for generations really be replaced by software

In comparing my accountant to TurboTax I had two questions:

  1. Can I really do my own (self-employed) taxes?
  2. Is a CPA or tax expert necessary for guidance and a little human touch?

After using TurboTax, I believe the answer to both of these questions to be, “yes.” While tax preparation is just a series of questions and math, I found human guidance necessary and an indispensable part of the process.

So, I believe that while TurboTax LIVE can replace your CPA at a cheaper price, you should plan to spend a couple more hours working on your taxes with TurboTax vs. a CPA.

I also think that the first year that you switch from CPA to TurboTax will require more time than in future years as you will be inputting data for the first time. Remember, all of this info will be saved for your convenience next year!

4. TurboTax vs. CPA Cost Difference:

The cost of filing your taxes depends on several variables including the complexity of your return and even your location, and only a small minority of people can actually file free. Having said that, TurboTax LIVE should save you significant money compared to a CPA.

Here’s a cost comparison of filing your income tax return with a CPA vs. TurboTax:

  • CPA cost: The NSA (National Society of Accountants) reports that the average itemized form 1040 with Schedule A income tax return costs $323 to file with a CPA (source)
  • TurboTax LIVE Premium with expert help costs about $179-209 (source)

Both CPA and TurboTax require an additional fee (about $50) per state efile.

My cost savings were about $200 with TurboTax Premium LIVE vs. my accountant’s set fee!

Can a tax preparer get me more money than TurboTax? After trying both TurboTax and a CPA I found my effective tax rate and refund as a self-employed small business owner to be about the same.

5. CPA vs. TurboTax: Which Is Better?

I had a CPA prepare my taxes last year and then used TurboTax LIVE this year in an effort to compare and decide which is better.

In my opinion, TurboTax LIVE is an evolutionary leap in the tax industry. I believe that they have taken the best of DIY and combined it with the benefits of using a CPA to create a superior product.

That’s probably why the other big names including H&R Block and TaxAct have scrambled to provide live assistance as well.

While some people, especially businesses and those with complex tax situations, will still prefer to have a CPA prepare their taxes, TurboTax LIVE is a game-changer for most taxpayers including those who are self-employed.

For me, switching to TurboTax LIVE was like realizing I don’t need a travel agent to plan my pretty sweet Southwest road trip.

So, in my self-employed tax situation, I declare TurboTax LIVE the winner vs. my CPA!

If you aren’t delighted with the performance and cost of your CPA, I’m happy to recommend TurboTax to most taxpayers and pass along this discount! If you are thinking of switching from your CPA to TurboTax, here’s what you’ll need.

6. What Do You Need to Switch From CPA to TurboTax?

taking plunge vintage high dive

Are you thinking of switching from a CPA to TurboTax? I thought it would be difficult, and was prepared to email my accountant to request files and forms.

However, in most cases, it’s pretty simple. Here are a few things you’ll need when switching from a CPA to TurboTax:

  1. Last year’s tax return in digital or print format. Your CPA should have already mailed you a printed copy after filing last year
  2. Logins for financial accounts including where you bought and sold stocks and crypto. Companies like Chase, Coinbase, and Fidelity can export your info directly to TurboTax to save time!
  3. The birthdates and social security numbers of family members or dependents

Then, of course, you’ll need everything that you would normally give to your accountant. Because I’m self-employed, this includes 1099s, retirement contributions, plus business and home office expenses, etc.

I assumed my CPA would have to be involved or transfer something for me to switch, but they were uninvolved in the entire process.


TurboTax LIVE includes most of the former benefits of using an accountant. So, when comparing TurboTax LIVE vs. using a CPA, I think the main difference comes down to cost and time.

TurboTax LIVE saved me a lot of money but took a few hours longer than last year when my CPA prepared my income tax return. However, after using TurboTax this year, I expect it to be easier next tax season.

I hope you enjoyed my comparison of TurboTax vs using a CPA, and you have a better idea of whether making the switch to TurboTax LIVE is a good idea for your unique tax situation.

If you do check out LIVE, here’s our exclusive discount:

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Online: 10% Off
1. Save up to an extra 20% online on Deluxe and Premium including LIVE...Show More
1. Save up to an extra 20% online on Deluxe and Premium including LIVE. Click to apply discount pricing on turbotax.intuit.com: Show Less

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