(BPT) - Every year, nearly eight out of 10 taxpayers receive a federal tax refund. Many of them are more than happy to see that 'extra' money drop into their bank accounts. In fact, according to a recent TaxAct survey, 61 percent of tax filers said they'd rather receive a big refund than a larger paycheck throughout the year.
Unfortunately, many of those taxpayers don't realize they could have that 'extra' money throughout the year. That's right - receiving a refund means overpaying the government in the form of a 12-month, interest-free loan.
'Receiving a refund check simply means you're getting the money you already earned in the past year,' says Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development for TaxAct. 'It's money you could have used to pay for things like car payments, student loans, groceries and medical bills - or even that island getaway you wanted to take last summer.'
Fortunately, there is something you can do about it. By making the necessary withholding adjustments to your Form W-4, you can have that money a lot sooner than tax season. Follow these three steps to take control of your finances and help give yourself a raise this year - not a refund next year.
1. Review your current withholdings.
To control your tax withholding and paycheck, you need to adjust the number of allowances (withholding exemptions) you claim on Form W-4. If you're unfamiliar with Form W-4, it's the tax document you complete each time you start a job to let your employer know how much money to withhold from your paycheck for federal taxes. To better understand how allowances work, think about it this way:
* To increase your paycheck, claim more allowances to withhold fewer taxes.
* To increase your refund, claim fewer allowances to withhold more taxes.
With one simple form you can make the necessary adjustments to give yourself a raise and put more money in your paycheck instead of waiting to receive it in the form of a tax refund. Take a moment to review your withholdings along with your current financial situation. Is it better for you to receive a larger refund or would additional money in each paycheck benefit you more?
2. Use tools to help calculate the appropriate withholding.
If you are unsure of what number of allowances is appropriate for your tax situation, a variety of tax tools can make calculating your withholdings easier. The Paycheck Plus calculator, for example, will use information like your income and tax deductions to help you determine how to make changes to your W-4 to receive a boost in your refund or more money in your paycheck.
By answering a few quick questions, you can easily adjust your withholdings to see how they impact your paycheck and your tax liability. The tool will also auto-populate your new Form W-4 if you choose to adjust your withholdings.
Using a tool like the Paycheck Plus calculator not only takes the stress out of estimating your withholdings on your own, it also lets you quickly see the potential impact on your finances before you make any official changes.
3. Assess recent life events.
As life changes, so do your taxes. Generally, you should consider adjusting your W-4 any time a major life event occurs, to ensure the right amount of tax is withheld from your paycheck. For example, did you start a new job this year or get a pay raise in your current position? A change in household income can impact your tax situation and require you to modify your allowances.
Did you recently tie the knot? Saying 'I do' can affect your tax rate, especially if you and your spouse are both employed. Filing a joint return can lower your tax rate and qualify you for deductions you didn't have as a single person. The same is true if the opposite occurs - divorce. Untying the knot will place you back in single status and take away many of the tax benefits available to those who are married.
A new baby is also a major life event that greatly influences your tax situation. This is true even if you adopt. Not only can you claim an additional allowance for your new dependent, you may also qualify for various credits, like the Child Care Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Both of those decrease your tax liability. If your withholdings remain the same, you may receive a larger refund, but you will miss out on extra dollars in your paycheck to cover the costs of added expenses, like diapers and formula.