Few things are as financially exciting as receiving a big check from Uncle Sam, as will probably happen to you when you get your tax refund for 2014. Don't be hasty, though. With your tax refund in 2014 and beyond, there are some things to consider, and avoid, to maximize your dollars.
Don't be scammed
First off, know that you're not the only one eagerly on the lookout for 2014 tax refund checks. So are scammers and thieves. You're probably aware of the problem of identity theft, but you might not realize that 43% of identity theft complaints were tax-related, up from just 15% in 2010, per the Federal Trade Commission.
Scammers mainly need your Social Security number to go after your 2014 tax refund. Being sure to give it out only when really necessary is one way to protect yourself. Another is to file your taxes early. That's because it's what the thieves do. They submit a fake return angling for your 2014 tax refund, and when you later file your actual return, your refund will be rejected because it was already paid out. These matters do get resolved, but it can take many months. If you file your return early, though, you can beat the thieves to the money.
It's also best to mail your return from a post office, not by leaving it in your mailbox for a letter carrier to pick up. If you file electronically, do so from a secure network, not a public Wi-Fi network in a coffeehouse. And finally, know that the IRS won't text or email you -- don't fall for fake communications that are after your information or dollars.
Think twice about loans
As you wait for your tax refund to arrive in 2014, you might find it tempting to grab most of those dollars early, perhaps via a "refund anticipation check" or something like that. There are lots of businesses happy to advance you the money for your 2014 tax refund -- for a fee and/or lots of interest. That fee is usually way too costly, though. (If you desperately need the funds for a major purchase, you can probably get a loan with better terms from the retailer.)
There are ways that you can speed up the receipt of your tax refund in 2014, though. For starters, file your return electronically. Those who do generally get their tax refunds much more quickly -- in four or fewer weeks, instead of up to eight for paper returns. The IRS encourages taxpayers to "e-file" or to use a "Free File" program, available to those who earn $58,000 or less. (Those with any income can e-file with the Free File Fillable Forms option.) Folks eager for their tax refunds can file as early as Jan. 31.
For even faster receipt of tax refunds in 2014, opt for direct deposit. That can get your tax refund to you in just two weeks!
Spend it wisely
Finally, think carefully about what you will do with that tax refund in 2014. It's appealing to just think of it as a windfall and to spend it merrily on some treats. It's not a windfall, though -- the refund is money that has always been yours. You simply overpaid your taxes, and Uncle Sam is returning it to you.
Consider putting it to the most productive use you can. You might, for example, invest it in the stock market. If you do so with $3,000 and the money grows at the stock market's long-term historic average annual growth rate of 10% over the next 20 years, your modest 2014 tax refund will turn into more than $20,000. (Buy a car or stereo with it, though, and those items will shrink in value instead of growing.)
If you're saddled with high-interest debt, apply your 2014 tax refund to that. Paying down $3,000 of credit card debt that's charging you 20% interest is essentially earning a 20% return on your money -- double what the stock market averages.
As you anticipate your tax refund in 2014, be smart about receiving and spending it. You can save yourself headaches and make more money, too!
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian has no position in any stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.