3 Reasons Your Tax Refund Might Not Be As Big As You’re Expecting

09ba4dd1-bbe3-4f1f-9400-940dc6df347fEveryone tells you not to plan on having a tax refund. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, though, you know where every dollar is going. You might be counting on that money to give you the breathing space you need.

Even if you’re a little further ahead than that, you may still have made plans for your tax refund. You might be planning to pay off a credit card from the holidays or hoping to put a down payment on a car. You might just be hoping to take a little vacation over spring break!

Whatever your plans for the money, it’s a good idea to temper your expectations. Unfortunately, you can’t count on the same tax refund you got last year. Here’s why.

1. Student loan garnishments. 

If you’re behind on your student loans, you might not see much of your refund. If you don’t have much of an income, it’s easy to get behind and it’s hard to catch up. Student loan companies know that, for people with minimal income, tax refunds are a source of a big chunk of money. Also, since it’s not a regular source of income, the rules regarding garnishment are more lenient. Ordinarily, creditors are only allowed to take 15% of your discretionary income if you have one loan, or 25% if you have multiple loans. For a tax refund, the Department of Education can instruct the IRS to apply the full amount of any tax refund you’re due to the balance of your loan.

Even if you’re paid off in full, it might be wise to check with your spouse. This process can also apply to your refund for his or her defaulted student loans. As far as the IRS is concerned, you’re one taxpayer with one set of obligations.

This process can apply to federal student loans, federally subsidized loans and some private loans. You’ll receive a notice of proposed offset from the IRS. You have 65 days from receipt of the notice to object to the offset. Deferments can be provided for up to 3 years for economic hardship and unemployment. They may be provided indefinitely for individuals seeking an advanced degree or for people with disabilities.

It’s also possible the “loan” may just be a paperwork error. If you’ve unenrolled from classes but haven’t yet received a repayment from the school, for instance, you might get your refund back with a short letter. The notice of referral will provide you instructions to request a review.

2. You made more money.

Usually, getting a raise is something to celebrate. If you got one this year, that’s good news for your career future. It’s less good news for your refund. The refund is the difference between what you paid in taxes and what you ended up owing. Your taxes are withheld from your paychecks assuming they stay the same all year. If you got a raise in June, then you were effectively under-withholding for the first half of the year.

Beyond the difference in payment, you may find your raise puts you just above the threshold for credit programs. Credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) have income eligibility requirements. If you made more money this year than you did last year, you may not qualify. The same is true for subsidized insurance premiums through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). If your income changed after you obtained coverage, you may have to hand back a part of that subsidy.

The EITC is fairly significant, particularly if you have kids. It may be worth your time to look for other deductions you can take to get your gross income under the threshold. Consider working with a professional tax preparer, too.

3. You were the victim of identity theft.

The past few years have seen an increase in tax returns filed fraudulently on behalf of victims of identity theft. A crook uses your Social Security Number and fabricates financial information to get a hefty tax refund, then cashes the check. You’re not only out your tax refund, but also may be facing criminal charges for the phony info on “your” return.

With cuts to the IRS budget this year, its enforcement and investigation of these crimes has dropped. You should contact the IRS immediately if you receive notice that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number or if you are issued a W-2 (an income statement report from your employer) by an employer you don’t recognize. These are red flags that someone is fraudulently using your identity.

The FTC recommends you contact the IRS’s Specialized Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490. You should also prepare proof of your identity, like a copy of your drivers’ license, Social Security card, or passport. The IRS has a form, IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039, that will start the investigative process. Recovering from this crime will take time, but you will get the refund you’re due.

To prevent identity theft, check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!

Article source courtesy of CUContent.com.

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 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 732.312.1500.

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 or give us a call at 732.312.1500, Option 4.

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.

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.