How to Prepare for Tax Season and Put Your Refund to Good Use
With tax season ahead, it's a perfect time to prepare your documents, ensuring you have everything to file by the April 18th deadline. But, of course, it always helps to know the best ways to prepare.
Here are some basics on how to get organized early and a few pointers from First Florida Credit Union on how you can use your tax refund to get ahead.
Documents to Look for when Preparing to File
The primary documents you should review and have ready to go are income-related forms, adjustments to income, and deductions/credit documents.
Income-related forms include:
- W-2s, which your employer provides. It lists your total income, taxes withheld, and other information.
- 1099-NEC, which you need if you did any freelance or consulting work as an independent contractor if you earned at least $600 last year.
- 1099-INT, which you should receive from your financial institution if you earned $10 or more on savings or investments.
You may be able to deduct certain expenses from your gross income without having to itemize. Look for documents that include information such as:
- Retirement account contributions
- Student loan interest paid
- Health savings account contributions
- Self-employment taxes
Other deductions or tax credits that will require documentation include:
- Interest paid on your mortgage
- Charitable documents
- Medical expenses
- Dependent care
- Property taxes
- Mileage (if you drove for IRS-accepted purposes)
Other Documents You May Want Handy
There are always a few documents you may want handy that you wouldn’t usually have lying around the house.
- Have a copy of last year’s federal and state taxes available. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it will be a good refresher on how you filed previously.
- Have your social security number ready, as well as the numbers of your dependents.
- If you or your spouse have been issued an identity protection PIN, you’ll need to have that handy.
You can file your taxes inexpensively or for free with helpful tax services like TurboTax, TaxAct, or IRS.gov. However, more complicated tax situations may require you to seek the help of a professional tax accountant. Peace of mind is usually worth the cost of service, and a professional can help you find more eligible tax credits than you may find on your own.
Smart Ways to Use Your Tax Refund
Tax season is an exciting time when you expect to receive a refund. However, it’s also a once-a-year opportunity to use your refund to get ahead financially. Here are some great ways to put your refund to good use:
1. Start or add to an emergency fund
You can use a general savings account with your current financial institution, or you can open a high-yield savings account (HYSA) that typically offers a higher annual percentage yield. An HYSA is federally insured for up to $250,000, so your money is safe and secure and allows you to access cash quickly through withdrawals or electronic transfers.
You can find an HYSA with a quick google search, which will also allow you to compare their annual percentage yields.
2. Eliminate high-interest debt
If you have credit card debt, paying it off with your refund is one of the best investments you can make. Imagine spending your refund on an item you will rarely use while continuing to battle mounting debt, or you can use your refund to become debt-free and have more money available to you every payday instead of once a year.
If your refund isn’t enough to eliminate your debt, use it as a strong starting point. Try paying your highest-interest debt first and working your way to lowest-interest debt, known as the debt avalanche method, or list and pay off your smallest debt balance first and work your way to your highest debt balance, known as the debt snowball method.
3. Contribute to your IRA
Even if you have a retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k), an IRA can be a great way to save more for retirement while having more control over your funds. Remember that you want to contribute early and often when saving for retirement, so contributing your refund to an IRA annually is a great way to get ahead effortlessly.
If you’re unsure about what to do, this is where it can be helpful to turn to your financial institution for guidance. For instance, First Florida Credit Union offers its members access to wealth management services that can help them develop a financial strategy for their situation.
If you want to learn more about ways to get ahead financially, read New Year, New Financial Habits for tips on creating positive financial habits.