Uncle Sam Has Held Your Money Hostage for a Year


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A strong majority of Americans intentionally plan to receive a windfall through their federal income tax refund, according to a recent poll by The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).

"Many people consider an income tax refund to be the only way they can save as their withholding has become a method of forced savings," said Gail Cunningham, vice president with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

By withholding too much from their paychecks, Uncle Sam has Americans loaning money without the benefit of earning interest.

"Often the very people who celebrate receiving a refund are those who are most in need of extra money in their pocket each month," Cunningham said.

A better option is to have the proper amount withheld each month to increase their paychecks.

"Using this monthly money to fund a savings account creates a nest egg that the worker has access to and can protect against unplanned expenses or an emergency," Cunningham told MainStreet.

Workers can submit an updated W-4 to their employer at any time during the year. The withholding calculator at www.IRS.gov can help taxpayers determine the proper number of withholding allowances.

"If the adjusted allowances result in a higher paycheck, make a conscious decision regarding how to best allocate the extra money," said Cunningham.

Despite good intentions, a once-per-year windfall can result in a splurge. About 52% of Americans plan to spend the majority of their anticipated tax refund as opposed to 40% who plan to save it, according to an annual Capital One Bank survey called Taxes and Savings.

"Four in five Americans are expecting to get tax refunds this year and most of them are already thinking about what they intend to do with the money," said Jim Kelly, head of direct banking with Capital One. "A tax refund isn't a year-end bonus or magic windfall, it's the government giving you some of your own money back so it makes sense to think carefully about how you plan to use it, putting that refund to work for yourself and getting on a path to save more and invest in your financial future."

The average federal tax refund this year will be $3,116. That's up 4.2% from 2013, according to IRS statistics.

About 58% will use the money to pay down debt or bills, 15% will pay for everyday expenses or necessities and 7% will equally go on vacation or make a major purchase. Only about 1% will purchase a TV set, iPad, smartphone or other electronics.

"Whether your goal is to save for the future, pay down debt to help get your finances in order or even to spend all or some of your refund on something important to you, planning ahead is essential to help keep yourself on track," said Kelly.

A mere 9% of consumers expect to owe taxes this year with 34% saying they will need to dip into their personal savings or emergency fund to cover the cost, 35% have set aside savings to pay for their owed taxes, 22 percent expect to secure an installment agreement or payment plan with the IRS, 6% will pay with retirement funds and 4% plan to pay with a credit card.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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