You've probably gotten a ton of tax advice from everyone from your parents and your coworkers to even the CPA at your neighborhood seasonal tax filing shop — but do you ever wish you could ask an expert if you're making the right tax decisions? We brought in financial expert and author of Retire Inspired, Chris Hogan, to give you the straight talk so you don't have to wonder anymore.
Should You Do Your Taxes Yourself or Hire an Expert?
Chris and his wife do their own taxes, but they always have them reviewed by an expert. He says you can do your own taxes if you fall into the following three categories: you are single, you are not a homeowner and you have one source of income.
If you fall into any of the following categories, Chris recommends consulting an expert: you're married, you have a child (or children), you own property, you itemize your deductions, you donate to charity or you have multiple sources of income.
One more thing to consider: Chris says, "The average refund for a do-it-yourself-er was around $1,600. The people who used a professional? Essentially closer to $2,800, according to a survey. So you can see — there's a big, big difference here."
Why You Shouldn't Be Getting a Refund
We pay taxes but the government holds on to our money all year, and guess what they earn: interest. But now, come tax refund time, guess what they give us back? Just the amount that we overpaid. They don't give you the interest back.
If you've gotten a big refund in past years, Chris recommends making an adjustment to your W-4 (the form you filled out when you started at your job) to withhold less from your paycheck, so that you're not overpaying throughout the year. You want to basically come out even come tax time (i.e. owe nothing and be refunded nothing).
How You Should Spend Your Refund
"The one thing to remember is that your refund is not a bonus! What I mean is, it didn't come from the fairy, it came from your hard work. You just paid too much," Chris cautions.
He recommends divvying up your refund into three categories. First, he recommends setting funds aside for an emergency fund. He says, "People sleep better and feel better when they have that cushion." Next, he recommends paying off debt and investing in your retirement account. If you have money left, you can have some fun.