A big tax refund sure feels good… almost like you’ve won the lottery. But this doesn’t always make good financial senses. You could have put that money to work either investments or just a plain vanilla savings account earning interest over the year instead of giving Uncle Sam an interest free loan.
However, paying in isn’t only an inconvenience, it could also be against the law. If you owe more than 10 percent of your total income and other taxes, it can lead to criminal penalties, including a $1,000 fine and, in the most egregious cases, one year in prison.
Ideally, you want your refund or payment due to be no more than 5 percent of your total tax burden. So if your taxes are $10,000 (income taxes, self employment taxes, etc.), you’ll want a refund of no more than $500 or to pay in no more than $500. Here’s how to tweak your taxes now to make the next tax filing season less stressful… and better for your bottom line.
Here’s how to do it if you are an employee (i.e., not self employed). Fix your W-4. You probably haven’t seriously thought about your W-4 (the form that determines how much is taken out of your paycheck each month) since you started your job, but you can change it at any time. The IRS has a handy tool on their website that lets you input your marital status, wages, and other types of income and adjustments that affect your status. After that, it spits out a recommended change to your allowances, which is the number between 0 and 10 that tells payroll how much of your paycheck the government gets. The site even predicts what kind of refund you can expect in 2013.
If you’re self employed, you’ll want to estimate your income at various points throughout the year (e.g., quarterly) and adjust your estimated payments. This calculation is a bit more tricky so you may want to consult a tax adviser for advice.