Tax season brings a slew of worries — costs, paperwork, and deadlines loom. Online tax preparation and filing services make this period less nerve-wracking. You can get expert-level tax assistance without leaving your house or even talking to anyone at a fraction of the cost of your local certified public accountant (CPA).
Most online tax software companies provide similar services and features at comparable prices. So when an online tax service comes along and does things differently, it stands out. Circle CPA is a unique online tax firm that provides tax preparation by a real, live CPA and — here’s the clincher — lets you pay what you want for the service.
Unlike most online tax-filing companies, Circle CPA handles everything for you, just like the service you’d get from a traditional tax office. You securely upload your paperwork, and the company does the rest, including filing your state and federal tax returns. But the pay-what-you-want model might not mean you get the cheapest service possible. If you’re interested in this unique service, take a close look at its offerings and model to determine whether it’s a fit for you.
Circle CPA is best for filers with simple tax situations, but its services do cover most personal tax filers and many small-business owners. Before signing up, review the firm’s key features to determine whether it’s the right fit for you.
Like the more well-known services, Circle CPA is an all-online tax service — but the process is significantly different from what you’re familiar with if you’ve used other online tax services.
To get started with Circle CPA:
- Fill out the customer registration form to sign up for Circle CPA.
- After a few minutes, check your email. You should see two: a welcome email and an email with an invitation to your dedicated secure file-sharing folder, where you can immediately upload your tax documents. Circle CPA uses Box, a respected cloud-computing platform, for file-sharing, so you must create a Box account if you don’t already have one.
- Your Circle CPA tax preparer will contact you if they have any questions while preparing your return.
- Receive and review a draft of your return. It usually arrives within a few days, but it could take up to a week or two during the busiest parts of tax season.
- Circle CPA e-files your return with the IRS for you, or you can opt out of e-file and receive a copy of your return to file yourself.
- Choose your fee (knowing the service you received and your expected refund or tax liability), then receive an invoice to pay it immediately.
Pay What You Want
Circle CPA doesn’t charge a set fee. Instead, it lets you pay what you think is fair — after you use its service. The service is a bona fide pay-what-you-want operation. You can pay as little as $0 if you choose.
To set your rate, consider the complexity of your taxes and the market rate for filing plus the amount of your tax refund or bill and (if you know it) the money Circle CPA saved you compared to another service. Choose a fee you believe is fair, and that’s what you pay.
To determine what a fair rate is, consider the following:
- Rates for CPA Tax Preparers in Your Area. The right fee for Circle CPA should fall below these. It offers a similar result — but with less personalized service, less one-on-one contact, and far less overhead. The company recommends that customers speak with friends or colleagues about their experiences to understand the going rate for a CPA in their area.
- Fees for Online Tax Services Like TurboTax and TaxAct. Circle CPA’s fee should fall slightly above these because it’s an entirely done-for-you service as opposed to DIY. Perusing the price tiers for these services can give you valuable information about which tax situations a tax preparer considers complex and would expect a higher fee for — such as itemized deductions, self-employment, or nonemployment income.
- Your Personal Experience. Like tipping, the pay-what-you-want system lets you take the quality of service into account to determine your fee. If you received poor service or have to have your tax return completely redone, a low or no fee makes sense. The company may choose not to work with you again next year, but you likely wouldn’t return in that case, anyway. If you receive stellar service, you might want to bump up your fee in hopes of priority service next year.
Circle CPA doesn’t ask you to pay anything or name your fee until after your CPA prepares and files your tax return. There are no hidden fees, regardless of the complexity of your tax situation, including state tax filing fees.
This model doesn’t necessarily mean the firm is a way to file your taxes for free or cheap. In fact, if you pay nothing or an unreasonably low amount, the company won’t serve you in future years (though you’ll have already received the service for this year). On the other hand, if you pay a high amount, you could become a high-priority client in future years.
Taxes Done by a Real CPA
Through Circle CPA, a certified public accountant prepares your tax return for you, so you’re not relying solely on software to catch all the applicable deductions, credits, and forms for your situation.
So far, the company’s founder, Bradford Fishback, is the only one serving clients, though the company’s website advertises it’s actively hiring CPAs. Fishback has been a Nevada-certified public accountant since 2014 (according to CPA Verify), and his license remains valid.
Circle CPA started in 2019, but Fishback has been providing online tax prep services since at least 2014, when he launched an earlier iteration called Fishback Tax.
Your financial information is safe with the firm. You’ll share all documents and receive your draft return for review through its secure online portal — your dedicated folder through Box, a shared cloud drive.
According to Box, files uploaded to its servers are encrypted using FIPS 140-2 certified, 256-bit AES encryption, the level of security required of government data and banking institutions. The company uses secure data centers to store your information on enterprise-grade servers, which it backs up daily. Box is SAS70 Type II-certified, the industry’s strictest standard for data collection developed by the American Institute of CPAs. It’s also Safe Harbor-certified to comply with European Union data-collection regulations.
Audit Support & Amended Returns
After you file your taxes with Circle CPA, it’s prepared to serve you for additional situations that may arise, including filing an amended return and responding to government audits.
Circle CPA handles audits for any taxes you prepared and filed through the firm. Like its tax prep services, Circle CPA audit support happens online through its secure online portal. It reviews audit requests to help you understand what the government is asking of you, and it provides you with the necessary paperwork.
The company charges for audits and amended returns on the pay-what-you-want model as well.
Support for Personal & Business Tax Situations
You can sign up to have the Circle CPA file personal returns, business returns, or both. The firm prepares taxes for:
- Personal Returns. Regardless of your tax situation, Circle CPA can help you file joint or individual tax returns. The company supports forms for employment, independent contractor income, student loan debt, and miscellaneous income (for example, real estate, retirement, or investments).
- Small-Business Returns for an S-Corporation. Circle CPA helps you file taxes with Form 1120-S as long as your business has less than $250,000 in revenue for the tax year and less than $250,000 in assets.
- Small Business Returns for an LLC or Partnership. Circle CPA helps you file taxes with Form 1065 as long as your business has less than $250,000 in revenue for the tax year and less than $1 million in assets.
Circle CPA doesn’t prepare taxes for large businesses, estates, nonprofits, or trusts.
According to its LinkedIn page, the company promises it’s created the perfect system for minimizing your tax bill, guaranteed. That’s the purpose of the pay-what-you-want model. If you’re dissatisfied with the service, you can always pay nothing and not use the company in the future.
Circle CPA offers an unusual model that lets you prepare and file your taxes online, save time, work with a live CPA, pay what you want, and support a small business. Its most significant differentiator is its pay-what-you-want model, a way to provide affordable, personalized tax prep to just about anyone.
- Pay What You Want. The greatest advantage Circle CPA has over both the online tax software and brick-and-mortar shops is that you get to choose your fee. It’s a true pay-what-you-want model: pay as little as $0 or as much as you want. Consider that you’re working with a family-owned small business, and pay what you think is a fair price.
- No Additional State Filing Fee. Unlike almost every other online tax prep and filing option, Circle CPA doesn’t come with a schedule of extra fees. You choose your fee after your CPA completes and files your return, and that’s all you pay. So if you have state taxes, factor that into the fee you choose.
- Usually Speedy Service. After signing up, you can start uploading your documents within minutes. According to user reviews on Trustpilot, getting their draft returns for review within a few days, though some waited a week or two during busier periods of the tax seasons.
- Support a Small Business. Circle CPA’s unique model gives you a way to patronize a family-owned firm instead of a chain like H&R Block or large software company like TurboTax — without visiting a tax office or spending time on the phone with an accountant.
Its unusual model puts Circle CPA somewhere between your local accountant’s office and online tax filing software companies. That makes it tough to pinpoint exactly who it’s best for and how you can benefit from choosing it over more well-known options.
- Pay What You Want — With Conditions. The firm’s stated mission is to enable everyone to afford their service. But it also says it may choose not to work with you in the future if your fee is low relative to the complexity of the service you receive — and that clients who pay a high amount will get priority status in the future. In general, only pay low or $0 fees if you’re dissatisfied enough to avoid using the service again.
- Little or No Direct Interaction. Your CPA will contact you if they have questions, and they remain available if you have questions. But users report a slow response time. If you have a complicated return that requires a lot of back and forth (or just like a lot of hand-holding), this isn’t the service for you.
- Small Shop. For now, there’s only one CPA handling returns, though the site advertises the firm is actively hiring CPAs. It doesn’t appear to have the capacity to handle a high volume of clients, so you might run into bottlenecks if business grows faster than they can hire help.
- No Last-Minute Prep. Small businesses must upload paperwork by March 1 to ensure filing by the March 15 deadline, and individuals must upload paperwork by April 1 to ensure filing by the April 15 deadline.
- Limited Support for Non-Citizens. The firm might be able to serve people who aren’t United States citizens, depending on your situation. Reach out to the company with your information to learn whether it can work with you.
- No DIY Option. Circle CPA isn’t a typical online tax service. Instead, it’s a way to connect remotely with a small tax firm for an affordable, hands-off way to complete your taxes. If you like control or visibility into the process, it’s not for you.
Circle CPA provides everything most filers need to prepare and file their annual tax returns at an affordable rate.
You use the service entirely online without giving up the benefits of working with a certified tax professional. The firm provides support for the most common tax situations, deductions, and credits — even for small businesses. You’re covered in case of an audit, and the company promises to find every possible tax break to get you the best possible refund (or lowest possible bill).
The firm probably isn’t a good fit for you if you have a complicated tax situation that requires a lot of personalized support and communication from your accountant. While it’s happy to cover anyone, it can’t promise efficient service for complicated situations, and you may end up paying more than you were hoping.
Circle CPA could be a practical compromise for anyone who’s debating between DIY tax prep software and hiring a professional.
It offers the personalized service you’d get from hiring a pro and the convenience and low fees of an online service. Because the firm operates efficiently and entirely online, it can afford to work with lower-paying clients and you can get quality service at an affordable price.