Oh dear. Another day, another alarming study. This time it's from our friends at the CCH Group, which provides tax services. Their CCH CompleteTax survey of more than 1,000 adults nationwide had some frightening findings.
For starters, some 66% of taxpayers (but not you, I'm sure) are afraid they may be overlooking some tax breaks or making mistakes that could cost them in fines or penalties. I'm actually not so appalled at this finding, because considering that our tax code fills some 70,000 pages and contains nearly 4 million words, who could really be expected to master it? Even the IRS itself has trouble. In 2005, a quality check found that the 3.5 million people asking questions at the IRS's Taxpayer Assistance Centers got correct information only 66% of the time.
Deduction or credit?
Meanwhile, only 22% of taxpayers knew whether a tax deduction or tax credit is more valuable. I know you're not one of these people, but in case one is looking over your shoulder, the answer is: Tax credits are more valuable. A deduction permits you to reduce your taxable income so that you end up taxed on less, and therefore pay less in taxes. If you're in a 25% tax bracket and you reduce your taxable income by $1,000, you save $250. A credit, meanwhile, reduces your tax bill dollar-for-dollar. A $1,000 credit lops a full $1,000 off your tax bill.
It seems that only about half of taxpayers are planning to contribute to tax-advantaged retirement plans in 2009. Not good! (I'm very glad this isn't you.) How are these people going to be able to retire comfortably if they keep putting off contributing to their IRAs and 401(k)s? Maybe you can remind these misguided friends of yours that the dollars they contribute today can do much more for them than the dollars they contribute in 10 years. These dollars will have 10 extra years in which to grow. (You can also tell them that they can still contribute to an IRA for 2008, until April 15, 2009.)
It's really critical to pay attention to your retirement planning. Social Security isn't likely to be enough to support you as well as you'd like, and more and more companies are restricting or phasing out traditional pension plans. Companies like Motorola
Even 401(k)s, which have replaced many pension plans, have been under attack recently. Companies that have suspended or otherwise changed their 401(k) matching policies include: Black & Decker
Finally, most taxpayers (but, fortunately, not you) think that getting a tax refund is better than owing taxes on April 15. Well, yes, it's always nicer to receive money than to pay it. But think about it. If you get a refund, it's only because you paid more than you needed to during the year, and Uncle Sam has been enjoying the benefit of that money for a while. It could have been serving you instead, perhaps at least earning some interest in a bank account.
Become a much savvier taxpayer by spending just a little time in our Tax Center (or lots of time, if you find that you can't tear yourself away).
For detailed guidance on retirement planning, I encourage you to test-drive, for 30 days, our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.
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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of 3M and Paychex. Paychex and United Parcel Service are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. 3M and Paychex are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Morningstar is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Morningstar. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.