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How Much Is Your Tax Refund Really Costing You?

Know your numbers, know your business.

Finance

After the holiday season comes to a close, the real adult holiday rolls around: Tax Refund Season. Tax return franchises have opened their doors, some equipped with air dancing balloons and people dressed in costumes flood the streets promoting everything from same-day refund and cash when you file, to options of filing with your last pay stub. With so many people cash-strapped from keeping up with the Joneses on Christmas and balling out for the New Year, cash on the spot seems very attractive, but before you fall into the illusion of free fast money, take a look at how much your tax refund is really costing you.

Who's Preparing Your Returns?

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If you are one of the people who are lucky enough to receive a refund, then you are most likely not concerned on how or why the refund was issued. If you are in the majority of middle class people who make too much to take advantage of many of the tax credits and end up owing the IRS, you are most likely interested in how to minimize your tax liability going forward. For the people in the second category, big chain tax return preparation companies are not much help to you.

If you fall into the first category, these preparation centers, which are primarily in lower income neighborhoods, advertise products that are not financially responsible for most taxpayers. Refund cash advances can come with fees of up to 18% taken from your refund and they are not always transparent about these costs upfront. They also rarely offer guidance on what tax-saving strategies and tips are available to you. The tax return preparation fee is not revealed until after you have completed your return with a representative and you can feel pressured to file with them since they already have done the work. More importantly, many are only open for the tax season, which is until April 15th, so that audit letter you received from the IRS in June…good luck finding your tax preparer to help you craft a response.

Can Receiving A Smaller Refund Be Better For You?

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I know you're wondering how can a smaller refund be a better option? But in some cases, it may be. First, you have to determine if your refund is due to an overpayment of taxes during the course of the year or because of tax credits/deductions that affect the amount of taxes you owe. If you are withholding more money than necessary, that is money that the government holds all year, interest-free.

Let's say you file your taxes for 2018 and discover that you withheld $1,000 more dollars than you owed, which is approximately $83 a month, and you invested that $83 each month and it earned 5% compound interest monthly. You would have $1,048 at the end of the year as opposed to the $1,000 the IRS refunded you. Of course, your refund would then be smaller but you would have more money overall. Although it can sometimes be hard to see the big picture, these amounts can add up quickly.

Why An Accountant Is A Better Solution

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Finding an accountant that is professional and whom you can trust is really the key to maximizing tax season. While the tax preparers employed at franchises are licensed, they typically do not have the same wealth of tax knowledge as a professional tax preparer or accountant. These are people who can give you specific guidance to your tax situation and if you stick with the same person for a number of years, they can be instrumental in helping you use tax planning to reach your other financial goals.

While it may be a few extra bucks up front to hire a private tax or accountant professional, knowing that you are not leaving any money on the table is worth the peace of mind.

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Featured image by Getty Images.

This article is in partnership with Xfinity.

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