Tax season is now upon us. And if you’re among the many Americans who expect a tax refund, this can be a serious chunk of change. For many Americans, it can be the highest monthly income they’ll take home in the year.
The first date to file was January 29 and the last date to file is April 17. Below are five things to consider to get the biggest bang for your buck. The biggest trophy for your taxes? Okay, moving right along...
Tip 1: Consider all tax preparation options (including free ones!)
Before you file, have you considered all of your options? While many of us may prefer to go to a local tax preparer in our neighborhood, there are a number of free or low-cost preparers online. In addition, eligible tax filers could qualify for free tax preparation at a VITA location. Here are some options:
Credit Karma now offers free tax preparation -- no conditions!
File online for free at MyFreeTaxes.com, sponsored by the nationwide nonprofit United Way and powered by H&R Block. Your household income must have been less than $66,000 in 2017 to qualify for the free service.
Use the IRS website’s Free File software if your household income was less than $66,000 in 2017.
You can also visit the IRS website to file if your household income was more than $66,000 in 2017, but you’ll need to know how to fill the forms out yourself (no free software available).
If your income was less than $54,000, you could qualify for free tax preparation (in-person, with electronic filing) at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) location. They also offer free tax prep for persons with disabilities and limited English speakers. Call 800-906-9887 or use the online tool to find a location near you.
If you’re over the age of 60, you may qualify for free tax help through Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).
Tip 2: Have a plan for your refund
We know it can be tempting to use your tax refund to buy something you’ve been eyeing, or to take yourself out to dinner. But before you do, think about your long-term financial health. This could be your opportunity to:
Minimize or pay off debt: First, attack past-due balances. What credit cards or loans have you been waiting to pay off? Holding balances on cards and loans not only costs you significantly more money in the long term, but it hurts your credit score. After you pay off past-due balances, take care of high-interest debt and other balances. You’ll thank yourself down the road when you’re debt-free, or closer to it!
Save for a rainy day: The IRS makes stashing away your refund easy. Use Form 8888 when you file, which lets you request that a portion of your tax refund be directly deposited into a savings account, certificate of deposit, IRA, prepaid card, savings bond, or Treasury Direct account. Save as little as $50 and you could enter for a chance to win cash. Two nonprofits, America Saves and Commonwealth, teamed up to launch a contest called SaveYourRefund. Tax filers over the age of 18 who use Form 8888 can enter for a chance to win cash prizes.
Contribute to other financial goals: Do you have a goal to buy a house or a car? Are you thinking about tuition for your education, or perhaps a child’s? Why not take some of that refund and put it towards one of those financial goals? And if you’re looking for even more ways to contribute to your financial goals, you may want to see if you’re missing out on local savings in your community. Get started with SpringFour, LendUp’s partner that can help you find ways to cut costs on groceries, utilities, prescriptions, and more.
Tip 3: Know if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
EITC is a benefit for working people with low to moderate income. Learn more about the program here, and use the handy EITC Assistant to see if you qualify. In addition, if you were affected by Hurricanes Irma or Maria, or Hurricane Harvey, you may be eligible for additional tax relief through EITC.
Tip 4: Beware of scams
Scammers come out in full force during tax season. According to the IRS, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars due to tax scammers. Know how to protect yourself! Keep in mind that the IRS will never initiate contact by email, text message, or social media to ask for personal or financial information. Read more tips to protect yourself (and check this out, too!).
Tip 5: Check the status of your refund
Finally, the IRS advises you to be careful not to expect your refund on a certain date. Don’t plan a major purchase or balance other financial commitments around any specific date for your refund. If you’d like an estimate of when you can expect your money, you can check your refund status.
Disclaimer: LendUp is not providing financial, legal or tax advice. If you need or want such advice, please consult a qualified advisor.