Getting a refund from the IRS is more common than not, and refunds total several thousand dollars for most households.
If you're on track to get a refund from your 2019 tax year, you'll want to be smart about what you do with it, especially amid the economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This could mean using it to pay bills, repay debt, or bulk up your emergency fund.
But even as you wait for your refund check to arrive, there's something you can do right now to get at money you'd otherwise have to wait until 2021 to get: You can change your withholding at work.
Why is getting no refund smart?
Although a refund can feel like a windfall, it really isn't. It's the return of money you should have had all along. You get it because you or your employer overpaid the IRS and let them use your funds throughout the year.
The problem is, when you've paid too much in taxes, you can't just get the excess back whenever you need it. If your hours are cut due to coronavirus or you face an unexpected expense, you can't ask the IRS to give you back your money.
But if you change your withholding now, you can get more cash in your paycheck every week. If your refund is around the average of $2,881 and you get paid every other week, you could increase your paycheck by about $110 simply by changing your withholding so you don't get a big refund next year.
That's more than $200 more per month you could use to save up a bigger emergency fund, cover unexpected expenses, or pay your bills if someone in your household has an income cut due to COVID-19.
Don't waste the opportunity to reclaim your cash
It's still early in 2020 and if you're overpaying your taxes now, you won't get the money back for around a year or longer. There's no reason to give up hundreds or even thousands of dollars of your hard-earned cash for months at a time -- especially during an economic and public health crisis as Americans remain locked in their homes and the economy is at a standstill.
If you're still working during the great lockdown, talk to your employer about how to change your withholding so a smaller amount is taken out of your checks. And if you're temporarily unemployed, make sure you complete your withholding forms properly when you get back to work.
The extra cash is very likely to come in handy now, during this time of economic uncertainty, rather than in 2021, when you'd eventually get it back if you keep overpaying.