7 Smart Ways to Take Advantage of Your Tax Refund

taxes08Tax season is often a time of stress for many, but it can be a joyful time for the roughly 75 percent of Americans who do receive income tax refunds.

While the refund really means you’re getting back money you loaned to the government at no interest, in practical terms it often means an unexpected infusion of cash into your wallet or bank account. It’s a great problem to have, but what should you do with your windfall?

The best choice for one person may not be the best choice for another. But experts agree on one thing – if you have debt, apply your refund to paying it off, whether it’s credit card debt, student loan debt, or other consumer debt.

If you’re getting a big refund ­– a check in the ballpark of $1,000 or more for taxpayers who don’t have a side business – consider adjusting your withholding so that you’ll have that money available to you during the year.

Here are the seven smartest things you can do with your refund:

Pay down debt. If you have any consumer debt – student loans, credit card balances or installment loans – pay those off before using your refund for any other purpose. Car payments and mortgages aren’t in this category, but you can also consider paying extra on your principal.

Add to your savings. Can you really ever save enough? You can use the money to build up your emergency savings, your kids’ college fund, or put it toward a specific goal, such as buying a house or a car, or financing a big vacation you’ve been dreaming about taking.

Add to your retirement accounts. If you put $2,500 from this year’s tax refund into an IRA, it would grow to $8,500 in 25 years, even at a modest 5 percent rate of return, TurboTax calculates. If you saved $2,500 every year for 25 years, you’d end up with more than $130,000 at that same 5 percent rate of return!

Invest in yourself. This could mean taking a class in investing, studying something that interests you, or even taking a big trip. Think about doing something that might add value to your life, such as taking a photography class or purchasing a special camera that could become a new hobby and potentially a side business in the future.

Improve your home. Consider putting your refund to good use by adding insulation, replacing old windows and doors, or other improvements that are more energy efficient. Or perhaps it’s time to remodel your bathroom or kitchen. You’re adding value to your home, and at the same time you’re improving your living experience too.

Apply your refund toward next year’s taxes. This is common among self-employed taxpayers, who are required to pay quarterly taxes since they don’t have taxes withheld. By applying any overpayment toward upcoming tax payments, you can free up other cash.

Splurge on something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’re out of debt and have substantial savings, this may be the time to take the cruise to Europe or trip to Thailand that you’ve always dreamed of taking. Such an experience can be life-changing, and you never know what impact it will have on your future until you actually do it.

Article Source: Teresa Mears for US News, http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2014/03/28/7-smart-ways-to-take-advantage-of-your-tax-refund

4 Ways Scammers Can Steal Your Tax Refund

48d9f43eab68404d0dc0def19d14ba6dIdentity thieves LOVE tax season.

Any thief who has your personal information can easily file a tax return, collect the fraudulent refund and leave you waiting months to get your own refund back and clear up the issue. Unfortunately, it’s only getting worse – last year the IRS launched 1,492 investigations into tax-related identity theft, where criminals used stolen personal information like Social Security numbers to claim fraudulent refunds. That’s up 66% from 2012 and more than 200% from 2011.

Here are some of the ways scammers use to steal your identity and how to avoid becoming a victim.

1. Fake calls from the IRS. Last month, the IRS said a nationwide phone scam had swindled $1 million from consumers in what the agency called “the largest scam of its kind.” As part of the scheme, callers impersonating IRS agents told victims that they owed taxes and needed to pay by wire transfer or a prepaid card. Other scams are carried out through email, and ask for personal information like a Social Security number or birthdate — which can later be used to claim tax refunds.

To protect yourself, be wary of any correspondence from someone claiming to be from the IRS. The agency says it usually reaches out by mail, and it will never ask for personal information via email or phone. If you receive something questionable, reach out to the agency yourself and verify that it’s legitimate.

2. Rogue employees. Be careful about giving out your personal information. Don’t ever give away more personal information than you need to and don’t be hesitate to ask someone why they need any of your personal information.

Some tax preparers could potentially be a scam artist. To avoid being fooled, be wary of any preparers who charge fees based on the size of your refund and never let a preparer ask for the refund to be deposited into an account in their control rather than sent straight to you. To help you detect if you’ve been scammed, be sure to regularly monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements for any suspicious charges.

3. Data breaches. Data breaches occur when hackers break through a company’s privacy walls and access private customer information and scarily enough, it’s becoming increasingly common. Once that information is in a fraudster’s hands, it’s easy for them to file a tax return in your name. If you know or suspect that your information was compromised during a data breach, consider signing up for identity theft protection (see below) or start regularly monitoring your accounts on your own. Be sure to investigate any charges you don’t recognize, no matter how small they are.

Most of the time if someone has a stolen card, the thief will often test it with a small transaction first in order to see if the card is activated, to make a bigger purchase. And because there’s a good chance you will be more susceptible to identity theft after a data breach, make sure to strengthen your passwords utilizing at least 8 characters, including upper- and lower-case letters as well as numbers and special characters (!@#$%).

4. Snail mail. It’s not as common as online identity theft these days, but many fraudsters still use the old-school strategy of stealing mail from mailboxes to piece together the information they need to file a tax return in someone else’s name. Other times, thieves will go as extreme as dumpster diving – it’s a low-tech way to easily retrieve your information, so make sure you ALWAYS shred any personal documents.

Another easy way to protect yourself is to file early. Many scammers are able to get fraudulent refunds because they file before the victim does. If you file first, the IRS will be forced to investigate when a second return from the same person arrives.

LifeSizePennyDon’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Click here to view the article source by Blake Ellis of CNN Money.

4 Wise Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund

A vacation would be fun, but you’ll get more bang for your buck if you invest in energy-saving improvements or maybe even a new car.

taxes refunds uncle samAmericans often wrestle with competing desires to spend, save or invest the cash from their tax refund checks.

Many people say they are being responsible with their refunds: 42% plan to use the money to pay down debt and cover bills and 25% plan to save it, according to a survey by TurboTax.

Others are splurging: 15% of taxpayers plan to treat themselves to a vacation or shopping. But advisors say that even if you’ve done everything right — you have an emergency fund, no debt and are maxing out your retirement account contributions — you might want to reconsider spending the refund on a 70-inch TV or a cruise. Here are some of their suggestions below.

1.       Rebalance your portfolio.

With the stock market hovering near five-year highs, advisors normally would recommend investors rebalance their portfolios by selling stocks and using the proceeds to buy bonds or whatever assets they need to get back to their target allocations. But some investors might be able to rebalance without selling their stocks.

Have questions about investing?  Set-up an appointment with the Financial Advisor located at First Financial Federal Credit Union.*  Appointments can be made at any branch location, or by calling 732.312.1565.

2.       Prepay your bills.

Even if you’re not living paycheck to paycheck and can afford to spend your refund on a new iPad without falling behind on your bills, there may be better uses for the cash. Though it’s not nearly as exciting, one can use the money to pay off future bills. Why not use this money to put yourself ahead of the game?

Prepay your car insurance bills or car loan payments. Write the phone company a check, or save the money for the home insurance bill you know is coming up in a few months. But don’t forget to check monthly statements to be sure you aren’t paying for something you didn’t request, experts say.

3.       Make home improvements.    Yellow helmet full of dollars

If you’re going to spend it, take a look at your house.  If your furnace is on its last leg, now may be your chance to replace it. Have you wanted to install new windows? Using the money on your home could lift your property value and prevent future damage, advisors say.  People who make energy-efficient improvements might also qualify for a residential energy tax credits expiring at the end of this year. To get the maximum credit of $500, taxpayers need to make $5,000 in qualifying improvements to their stoves, heating or air conditioning systems, insulation, roofs, water heaters and windows and doors. Learn more here.

Did you know First Financial has a home improvement loan?**  This loan is perfect for those who don’t think they have enough equity in their home.  Or maybe you’ve been itching to put in a new deck or pool for the nicer weather.  Stop into any branch to ask us how you can get started with a home improvement loan, give us a call, or apply online here.

isolated red car back view 014.       Buy a car.

If the list of needed car repairs is piling up, some advisors say it might be best to put your check toward a new ride. A $3,000 refund can cover the typical 10% down payment needed on a $30,000 loan for a new car, or the 20% down payment needed on a $15,000 used car.  Don’t forget that First Financial’s auto loan rates are the same whether you buy new or used!***

Those with existing car loans may also have a greater shot at refinancing to get a lower rate (some saving hundreds of dollars a month) if they use some of their refund cash to reduce the size of their loan.

Try our auto loan calculator called AutoCalcubot to help you see how you might fare with monthly payments on a vehicle you’d like to purchase.  The application works through Facebook, but you don’t need to have an account or even be logged in to try it!  Simply enter what your vehicle costs, the amount you plan to put as a down payment, and your term – and you’ll get our rates and what your monthly payments would be.***  You can also save your results for later, email them to a friend, set up text or email alerts to see when our rates change, or apply right online if you like what you see.

Article Source: http://money.msn.com/tax-tips/post.aspx?post=9a813b25-fba7-4882-b37b-778710cfa8f1

* Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members.

**Available on primary residence only, subject to underwriting guidelines. Subject to credit approval. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a home improvement loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties, NJ.

***Subject to credit approval. Rates shown are lowest possible and may not apply to every borrower, and higher rates may be charged depending on credit qualifications. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a First Financial auto loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

10 IRA Tax Tips

Knowing these 10 IRA tax tips can help you when saving for retirement. When preparing taxes and setting up retirement accounts, it’s important to know how your IRA or individual retirement arrangement affects your tax return. Being knowledgeable will allow you to make smart decisions when contributing to an IRA and how to handle the account in the future until you request disbursement at retirement.

Use these ten IRA tax tips to make smart decisions regarding your retirement future:

  1. Money contributed to a traditional IRA is not taxed until disbursement. Not including Roth IRAs, the person who owns a traditional IRA is not taxed until they request money from the IRA during retirement. Usually, the person’s tax bracket is lower during retirement, saving the person money by waiting to pay taxes until they are retired.
  2. IRAs can only be owned by one person. When the person owning the IRA dies, a beneficiary can be awarded any portion of the monies in an IRA that remains.
  3. Use the correct form. When making nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA, the taxpayer has to use Form 8606, Nondeductible IRA’s.
  4. Know if you are eligible for a tax credit. Use form 8880, Credit for Qualified Retirement Savings Contributions to find out whether you qualify for a tax credit.
  5. Persons can contribute to a traditional IRA up to the age of 70 years old.  If you are 70 1/2 years or more old at the end of a tax year, you may not contribute to a traditional IRA that year.
  6. To be eligible to contribute to a traditional IRA, the person who takes out the IRA or their spouse must have taxable income from specific sources. Income can come from a salary, wages, self-employment income, tips, commissions, or bonuses. Also included are taxable alimony and maintenance payments that the owner of the IRA received during the tax year. Income that does qualify includes deferred compensation, rental property income, pension or annuity compensation, and dividend and interest income.
  7. Contributions to an IRA can be made up till the tax filing date. You can contribute for the applicable tax year (the previous year) until April 15.
  8. Funds withdrawn from an IRA are taxable the same year they are withdrawn. Withdrawals of only deductible contributions are fully taxable.
  9. Early withdrawal may be taxable. Owners of traditional IRAs who withdraw monies before they are 59-1/2 years old may have to pay an additional ten percent tax.
  10. Late withdrawal may be taxable. Owners of traditional IRAs who do not withdraw the minimum amount after they turn 70-1/2 may owe an excise tax.

Contact the First Financial’s Investment and Retirement Center to set up a no-cost consultation at 866.750.0100 or visit our website for more information.

Article Source: Made Manual, Instructions for Life http://www.mademan.com/mm/10-ira-tax-tips.html#vply=0

What Are You Going To Do With Your Tax Refund?


For many people, good financial news usually comes around April 15, when they will discover that they have a tax refund on the way.  It might be the start of even more good news, as there are some signs that the economy is also turning around.

If you get a refund check from the IRS, great. And if it’s the start of better economic developments for you and your family, even better.

But with positive developments, comes the need to make good decisions. If your financial situation improves – whether on a one-time basis or more permanently – what are you going to do, not only with the money, but with the way you operate financially?

One thing to consider is that your tax refund is not a gift from the federal government. The money belongs to you – it always did – and the government essentially borrowed it from you for the better part of the year without paying you interest. You might want to consider adjusting your withholding so less will be taken out of your check. We understand that people love their tax refund checks, but you could have been earning interest on that money all year long. Assuming you saved it and didn’t spend it, you would end up with more money that way than waiting for a refund check.

But that save-not-spend part of the equation is important. When you start earning a little more money, it’s a good time to reassess how you budget, how you save and how you plan.

On the one hand, you want to pay off any high-interest debt as quickly as you can. On the other hand, you want to put something away for your future – especially retirement. And it’s a good idea to have some money in a rainy-day fund – with easy access to the cash – in case of something unforeseen.

The best idea is to develop a plan that incorporates all of these priorities. Develop a budget that takes into account all of your regular expenses, then allocates portions of what’s leftover for debt payments, savings and a rainy-day fund.

Having developed that plan, treat your tax refund like a paycheck and use the money accordingly. Then treat all your subsequent paychecks in the same way.

There’s plenty you can do. In addition to paying off debt and saving, if there is something you’ve been needing (not wanting) to buy, it’s wise to pay cash for it if you can, so you don’t add credit card debt. Beyond that, priorities might include:

  • Home improvements
  • Investing in a tax-sheltered account, like a 529 or Roth IRA, depending on your income and goals
  • Investing in a taxable account like a Brokerage Account
  • Giving to charity
  • And if you still have money left over, buying something you just simply want isn’t such a bad thing to do

Our experts located at First Financial, can walk you through the process. It’s worth remembering: The economy tends to go in cycles, and when you save and eliminate debt today, you put yourself in a stronger position for when times are tougher. Make a plan, stick to the plan, and watch as your situation continues to improve. Maybe that tax refund check will be the start of something pretty special. Give us a call at 866.750.0100 to set up a no-cost consultation or visit our website for more information!

Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Nondeposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. FR031214-CF9C

Getting a Head Start on Tax Planning


Tax day may be April 15, but tax season essentially begins as the previous year is ending. That’s because this time of year is the first opportunity to take the steps that will allow you to maximize your tax advantage as the filing date approaches.*

From December through February, you should be organizing records and watching for documents you may need. At the same time, you may have ongoing obligations for the coming year – perhaps a vendor contract or equipment you know you will need to buy. If it’s possible to pay cash in advance, the vendor may be willing to negotiate a discount in order to get the cash up front. This is not to say you should buy things just to get a tax deduction, but if you know you will need to buy them anyway, and you can afford to pay for them earlier, it only helps you to do so.

Aside from accelerating payments, gifts and distributions, this is a good time to generally get yourself organized for April 15th. Banks, brokerage accounts and retirement funds will likely be sending you statements you will need. Be on the lookout for them, and keep them in one folder that you will use for tax documents.

This is also a good time to review your beneficiaries and make sure these choices still reflect your priorities. Along these same lines, if you are planning to establish any educational accounts for your children, this is the time to do it.

And since you know you will owe taxes in the coming year, this is the time to estimate these amounts and budget for them.

It may take a little time, but taking actions like these will help to keep you organized and out of tax trouble in the year ahead – and perhaps for many years to come.

Have tax related questions or you’d like to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union? Contact them at 866.750.0100.

*Representative is not a tax advisor. For information regarding your specific tax situation, please consult a tax professional.
Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free (866) 512-6109.  Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution.  CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members.  FR011204-32F7