Adviser may help even hardy do-it-yourselfers

Every Monday through April 18, local tax experts will answer selected questions this tax-filing season.

To be included in the following weeks, please use the form at the right side of this page to submit your questions.

John, Baltimore: I'm 46 years old, single, no children, rent, salary at $39,000. Every year, I prepare my own tax forms using the EZ forms (since I don't itemize), and every year I wonder if there are any "tricks of the trade" I may be missing by doing them myself.

Am I correct in preparing my tax returns myself considering my situation, or would I be better served by using a professional tax preparer?

Wilhelm: Putting aside my bias for a moment, a professional tax preparer should be able to provide guidance even in "simple" situations. For example, does your employer offer a retirement plan that can save you taxes and increase your wealth? Is there a flexible spending account you can benefit from for medical expenses? Are you incurring significant employee business expenses that could be deductible? How much tax could you save with a deductible IRA deduction? Maybe a Roth IRA makes more sense? Does a Health Savings Account make sense for you, if your employer makes them available?

A tax advisor could also assist you in planning for home ownership, which creates substantial tax savings, as well as increases your personal wealth instead of your landlord's.

Our advice would be to meet with a couple of qualified advisors that profile well with your needs and your budget and I'm certain they'll earn their fee.

Michael, Lutherville: We are a one-income family (I work and my wife is a stay-at-home mom), [and] our AGI [annual gross income] is less than $100,000. We both have retirement accounts (my 401, her IRA). Would a contribution to her IRA account be deductible from our gross income?

Wilhelm: Married couples who have only one spouse covered by an employer retirement plan may make deductible contributions to IRA accounts on behalf of the spouse without an employer plan, as long as your combined adjusted gross income is less than $150,000. Therefore, you can deduct a contribution to her account for 2004.

Consider a Roth IRA for yourself or your wife as well. However, you cannot make both a Roth IRA and traditional IRA contribution for the same person in the same year.

Theresa, Catonsville: I telecommute from my home in Maryland for a company that is based in Wisconsin. How do I file my state taxes? Do I file in Wisconsin, in Maryland, [or] both? Can I just pick one? Thanks!

Wilhelm: If you work out of your home in Maryland and are a resident of Maryland, only Maryland can tax your income. The fact that your employer is based elsewhere does not change that fact.

Your employer may withhold Maryland taxes on your behalf, or they may choose to allow you to handle paying Maryland taxes on your own, depending on the extent of their presence here in Maryland. In either case, make sure your Maryland tax is being paid in. You should not be subject to Wisconsin withholding and you will not be required to file a return there.