Here's what to do with your tax refund (if you're lucky enough to get one)
OK, real talk: Is there anything more confusing than doing your taxes? It’s something we’ve all gotta deal with, but the forms, the numbers, the terms — it can feel pretty overwhelming. Tax Day is on April 18th, and it’s coming faster than we’d like. . . which is exactly why HelloGiggles compiled our thorniest tax questions and reached out to experts to find out what’s what. With our eight-part tax series, you’ll be *totally* prepared for Tax Day! First, we tackled the basics of doing your taxes; then, we went over what we needed to know about deductions and dependents. Now, we’re moving on to how to deal with payments and refunds.
Once I owe the government money, is doing a payment plan a good idea?
After doing taxes, we may hope for a big fat tax refund, but sometimes — especially for those of us who are freelancers — we end up owing Uncle Sam a little more than we’d hoped. If that number is a little too big for us to pay upfront, is a payment plan a solid option?
According to Andrew Oswalt, CPA and TaxAct tax analyst, a payment plan shouldn’t be your first option. “It’s always best to pay as quickly as possible, especially if you owe money that is subject to penalties and interest,” he explained. That option, of course, is dependent on your ability to pay.
Don’t procrastinate filing your return, either, Oswalt added. As soon as you have all your tax documents together, send it in — and pay as much as you can upfront. “If you can’t pay the tax by the time it is due, file Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, to set up installment payments with the IRS,” he said. “The IRS must allow you to make payments on your overdue taxes if you owe $25,000 or less, you can show that you can’t pay the amount you owe now, you can pay off the tax in three years or less.”
One thing’s for sure — even if you can’t pay the balance due, make sure to file your return ASAP! “You do not want to pay the late filing penalties on top of interest and penalties charged for not paying the balance due on April 18 this year,” April Walker, CPA, lead technical manager of Tax Practice & Ethics at the AICPA, told HelloGiggles.
She added that before deciding to finance with the IRS, analyze whether it would be more worth it to incur the cost on your credit cards, savings, or other means of payment. “Compare the cost you will incur to put your hands on that money to what the IRS will charge to you to request an Online Payment Agreement and the penalties and interest that will be charged until you can pay the balance (currently, 0.5% per month of penalty plus 4% interest),” she told us.
Money is fun, right? RIGHT?!
What should I do with my tax refund if I want to be responsible?
OK, we talked about payments, so let’s talk about a fun topic: refunds! Yes, sometimes the government send YOU money! If you’re expecting to get a nice check from the IRS, it may be tempting to spend it all on a new pair of boots or a trip to Costa Rica. Alas, if you want to be responsible — and we agree, it’s so not fun being responsible – – about the way you use your refund, there are ways you can be smart with your cash-money.
Ryan Bailey, head of consumer deposits, payments and non-real estate lending for TD Bank, highlights that there isn’t one specific thing everyone should do with a tax refund. It all depends your own personal needs – – and he had a couple of suggestinos. “If you don’t have an emergency savings account, it should be your top priority, and a tax refund is a great way to jumpstart the process,” he suggested. “Then, set up automatic transfers to develop a sound savings routine.”
He also advised using a tax refund to pay down any debts you may have, such as student loan debt or credit card bills, or socking the money away for retirement.
If all of this sounds a little disappointing, take heart! “There’s nothing wrong with setting a small portion aside to spend on something now,” says Jennifer Barrett, chief education officer at Acorns and founding editor of Grow, the first digital magazine dedicated to helping millennials navigate complex financial decisions. “Just make sure you put most of it to work for you. You want to make the most of the money you get back.”
So if you get a tax refund, go ahead and splurge a *tiny* bit. You earned it. But then, put that cash in a place where it can have babies.