How to be Tax Refund Savvy!

Monopoly Income Tax image by via CC by 2.0.
Monopoly Income Tax image by via CC by 2.0.
Monopoly Income Tax by via CC by 2.0.

Military families all around eagerly wait for this time of year… tax time! As soon as the announcement is published saying W-2s are available, MyPay is a buzz with pulling and printing the valuable form so taxes can be completed and refunds can be processed. Many milspouses already have an estimate of what their refund amount may be due to tax credits and deductions, like the child tax credit.

I’ve talked to couples who already have their taxes filed and refund in their account before I even have all of my documentation in hand to go get my taxes prepared! There is just something about the possibility of receiving a lump sum of money, which is larger than any paycheck we may see, coming into our bank account that can make us all a little giddy.

Now, let’s take a deep breath, get over the fact we’re receiving a large chunk of money, and try and think responsibly about what to do with the cash.

Just Say No… To Rapid Refunds

You managed to make it a whole year without this money; you can wait another couple of weeks to receive your refund. Luckily refund anticipation loans (RALs) have been phased out and are hard to find. Many of the banks that would back these loans so a taxpayer could walk out the door with money in hand have now stopped participating in these loans.

Why? Because they were essentially conducting predatory lending. The taxpayer would wind up paying at least 50% interest plus fees to receive the refund they were owed upfront, and the company preparing the tax return would be paid back when the actual refund was received.

Now, there are new products out there to try and get you to pay for the money you should be receiving for free!

Some popular tax filing franchises have products that seem fast and convenient but will keep you from receiving the full amount of your tax refund. There is a rapid anticipation check (RAC) product and Instant Cash Advance product. Both charge fees that can total in upwards of $100 and only shorten your refund wait time by about a week or so. You can also “conveniently” pay the fee to prepare your taxes out of your RAC.

Remember, taxes can be done on your installation at no cost. If you are not near an installation, you can contact Military OneSource to locate a preparer near you, and there is also the VITA program available at your local United Way (income restrictions apply).

Most importantly, direct deposit of your refund into your bank account is free! FREE! We love free!

Looking for tax-time resources for military families?  Check out our Tax Time Toolkit for Military Families!

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s spend that money responsibly!

3 Ways to Make The Most of Your Tax Refund

1. Build Up Your Emergency Savings With Your Refund

Throughout the year when money is tight, saving money is difficult and it is highly possible that if you have a savings, you dipped into it. Time to either replace the savings you spent or start saving! If there is one thing we know for sure, emergencies happen. By tucking away your refund in a savings account you’ll be better prepared.

2. Put Your Tax Refund To Work by Paying Down Debt.

While it’s not a very fun option, it can certainly save you money in the long run; especially if your credit card or loan has a high interest rate! Getting ahead of your debt now to pay off amounts early can free up money each month for you to decide how to spend it rather than sending money to a credit card.

3. Invest Your Refund in Your Retirement

With the military downsizing continuing and talks of military retirement benefits being altered, the idea of retiring comfortably after 20 years of service is no longer guaranteed. By opening a retirement account, you are taking the first step in ensuring that you will be able to retire with peace of mind. If you already have a retirement account, adding to it can only help that bottom line come retirement time!

The good news is we are being more responsible with our tax refunds. If that itch to spend just has to be scratched, try taking about 10% of your refund to just blow on whatever you feel like. Don’t blow your refund on meals out and unplanned shopping! Make your money work for you!


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