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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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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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