How Much is the Ideal Tax Refund?

With the average tax refund rising to just over $3000, it can seem to many filers that the refund check is a fabulous spring income boost that will help with bills, vacation plans, or that shiny new toy you’ve been eying. But is it really ideal to receive such a large sum back from the…
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With the average tax refund rising to just over $3000, it can seem to many filers that the refund check is a fabulous spring income boost that will help with bills, vacation plans, or that shiny new toy you’ve been eying. But is it really ideal to receive such a large sum back from the government? Don’t forget the fact that the $3000 you happily take back in April is YOUR money, which you have loaned interest-free to the government. So if getting a huge lump sum back is how you make financial ends meet every spring, consider these tips for making the most of your money.

Aim For a Modest Return

In order to reduce your tax return, you will need to reduce the amount of tax withheld from each paycheck. This can feel a little tricky because you do not want to end up owing money at the end of the fiscal year. The IRS provides a withholding calculator that will help you determine how to fill out the W-4 form with your employer. Your goal is to maximize the amount of money you take home every month, and end up with a small tax return—think about $500 or less—at the end of the year. That small return provides you with a safety net in case of miscalculation but does not give the government all the money that could be earning you interest.

Make That Money Work For You

If this will be the first year that you do not plan on a large return, it can be easy to let the extra money in each paycheck simply slip away in thoughtless purchases. If you know that you cannot muster the discipline necessary to put those little amounts of money aside each month, then it might be a good idea to let Uncle Sam hold onto your money for you. However, with the convenience of automatic transfers, even the most savings-averse filer should be able to put aside the money that would have otherwise been collected as tax.

Do some homework to find out where you will be able to earn some interest on that money. ING Direct, Ally, and FNBO Direct are all online banks that offer high yield savings accounts. While the interest from these accounts will not allow you to retire early, they will certainly earn you more money than Uncle Sam will get you for holding onto the same amount of money. With an automatic deduction every month to one of these banks, you won’t even notice the missing money and you’ll be earning, to boot. Here are some more tips on how to use your tax refund.

Don’t Go on Autopilot

After doing the homework to determine how much less you can have withheld, it can be tempting to simply do the same thing next year. But it’s important to reassess your tax circumstances every year, so that you can always maximize your take home pay. That way, you won’t have to wait for April to feel financially fit. You’ll have that “refund” around all the time, earning you interest and giving you a financial cushion. And doesn’t that feel more empowering than a $3000 check from DC?

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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