The flurry of envelopes marked "important tax documents enclosed" have already started arriving in my mailbox. They are a constant reminder that I'll soon be parked in front of the computer with that pile of papers adding up miscellaneous deductions and hunting down lost charity receipts.
Sometimes the only thing that can keep a taxpayer going is the promise of a refund check at the end of the process. If you're like the average taxpayer, you got a $2,237 refund last year. That can be plenty of incentive to get the chore done.
You may already be dreaming of the new television or stereo you'll buy with that check. Instead of spending it all in a flurry of shopping, why not earmark some or all of it to savings?
The Internal Revenue Service has made it easier to do that this year by allowing you to split your refund among as many as three different accounts. You pick how much you want to go to each account, and the IRS does the rest. The accounts do not have to be at the same financial institution.
If you choose to split your refund among two or three accounts, the funds would be directly deposited. You do not have to file electronically to take advantage of this feature, but you'll generally get your refund faster if you do. You can file electronically using computer software of a paid preparer, or through the IRS's Free File if you meet certain guidelines.
If you file by paper, you'll have to fill out an extra form to split your refund among multiple accounts. In either case, you'll have to provide the IRS with a routing number and account number for each deposit.
You should make sure your account accepts direct deposits before sending some of your tax money that way. Most do, and the refund-splitting feature means you can stash away a significant portion of your refund before ever being tempted to spend it.
You could use your tax refund to start an emergency fund. The average refund exceeds $2,000, enough to give you a quick head start on accumulating a pile of cash that could help you get through a job loss, health setback, or other emergency. If you already have an emergency account accumulating, direct all or part of your tax refund there.
If you don't, start shopping around now to find a good home for your emergency cash. You'll want to keep it someplace where it will earn a decent interest rate but remain easily accessible should that unforeseen car breakdown occur. Take a look at the Savings Center for more help.
You could also use your refund to fill your IRA. What better reason to stash away some of your refund than to make your life easier in old age? Direct your tax refund to an IRA of any stripe and you'll be doing your future self a big favor. This may be a great advantage for anyone who has been struggling to save the maximum $4,000 you can deposit to an IRA for 2006 or 2007.
The IRS lets you make deposits to an IRA through the tax filing deadline, or April 16 for most people this year. That means your tax refund could apply to your 2006 IRA deposit, but you'll have to make sure to contact your financial institution to ensure that they know how you'd like the money characterized. The IRS will not inform the financial institution on your behalf.
If you don't specify your intent, your financial institution can assume your deposit applies to 2007. That may be just fine if you're looking to get a head start on this year's IRA contributions. If you don't have an IRA, allow your tax refund to motivate you into opening one. Walk through the IRA Center to learn more about the types of accounts and the tax perks of each.
If, for whatever reason, you make a mistake while calculating the size of your refund, know that the IRS will make the first deposit on your list and then reduce or increase the size of the deposits to your other accounts accordingly. Let's say you expected a $1,000 refund and wanted to put $250 into a checking account, $250 into a savings account, and $500 in your IRA.
If the IRS says your refund should only be $750, you would see $250 in your checking account, $250 in your savings account, and $250 in your IRA. If the IRS says your refund should actually be $1,250, you would see $250 in your checking account, $250 in your savings account, and $750 in your IRA. A bank error in your favor!
Other taxing Foolishness: