Taxes may not be fun to pay, but they help keep society running. Still, there's no need to pay more than you have to. Here are a few tips to help you save money the next time the IRS comes knocking.
Don't pay with plastic
Even if you pay off your credit card bill in full each month, paying with plastic isn't always your best choice -- especially when it comes to your tax bill. Paying your taxes with a credit card will get you socked with a hefty fee from a third party that processes the transaction. Fees can exceed 2%, so if you owe $5,000 and charge it, you might be forking over as much as $117.50 in needless fees.
It's generally much cheaper to pay via a debit card or an electronic funds transfer from your bank account. The free Electronic Federal Tax Payment System comes with a recommendation from the IRS. Or just mail in a check, the old-fashioned way.
Stop lending money to the government
If you get refunds after filing your taxes each year, you've been lending money interest-free to Uncle Sam all year long; your refund is his opportunity to pay you back. Why let that money earn interest for Sam, when it could do so for you instead?
You can undo this sorry state of affairs with a handy W-4 form, which will tweak the tax dollars your employer withholds. If you'd like to keep more of your money and get a smaller refund, claim a few additional allowances. The worksheet that comes with the form can help you determine the right number of allowances for you -- or get more detailed info in IRS Publication 919. At Kiplinger's, a handy online calculator can help you.
On the other hand, procrastinators who have trouble saving money might want to consider reducing their number of allowances. Letting Uncle Sam and your employer save your money for you may not be efficient, but it's certainly effective. When you get that big lump sum at year's end, just make sure you immediately invest it!
A little legwork can get you a more efficient solution: Set up an automatic saving system via your bank or brokerage, where money is regularly and automatically transferred into a savings or investment account.
Don't leave that free $2,000 on the table
A little time spent looking into available tax credits and deductions could really pay off There are credits available to cover adoption-related expenses, for example, and child- and dependent-care expenses. You can even earn a significant tax credit just for saving money.
The government has granted many low- to middle-income earners as much as $2,000 in a "Saver's Credit." Yet according to the recent Transamerica Retirement Survey, only 12% of American workers in households earning less than $50,000 are aware of the perk. That's a crying shame, since $2,000 could make a huge difference to such folks.
Here's how it works: If eligible taxpayers make voluntary contributions to retirement accounts such as 401(k)s or IRAs, they may receive a credit of as much as $1,000 for single filers, or $2,000 for married couples.
Tax credits are much more powerful than deductions. If your tax rate is 25%, a $1,000 deduction will save you $250 in taxes. A $1,000 tax credit, though, will reduce your tax bill dollar for dollar.
We know these tips won't make April 15's impending bill any more pleasant. But with any luck, they could leave you with a bit more money in the bank than you'd otherwise have.
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