We’re seven days into March. Time to get serious about your taxes.
Yes, I realize the first day of April is usually the time when most Americans really start worrying about their tax returns. As one client told me years ago when I counseled him to file early: “Why, Howard? It’s not the last minute yet!”
There are advantages to filing in March, however.
The time is right
As The Motley Fool points out, filing too early can be a problem: “It can backfire if you fail to take all of your tax information into account.”
While this isn’t a problem I’ve seen too often, I’ve definitely witnessed taxpayers rushing through their returns and forgetting to include, say, the W2 for a part-time job they had just for the summer. While the IRS requires employers to mail these forms by Jan. 31, that doesn’t mean they’ll arrive then. In fact, sometimes it can be mid-February before they all arrive.
So while I want to encourage procrastinators not to wait till April, I also wanted to implore early birds to be careful.
You have the time
No one enjoys filing their taxes. Even if you’re due a refund, it’s not fun. If you file now, however, there’s an advantage: You have time to use your tax return as a budgeting tool.
What’s as boring as compiling your 2015 tax return? Creating your 2016 spending-and-saving budget. A depressing Gallup poll revealed only 1 in 3 adults “prepare a detailed household budget.”
Separate research has shown most Americans want to budget, but they “never get around to it.” Well, tax time is the perfect time to get around to it. You already need to add up your income, so you’re halfway to creating a budget.
Now you simply need to compile your monthly expenses and compare them to your monthly income. If something doesn’t add up, now’s the time to fix it. How? Check out Debt.com’s Money Management section for step-by-step instructions.
You delay your refund
That might sound like the opposite of a good thing. It’s not.
I’ve seen too many people rush to file their taxes so they can spend their tax refund. They think of it as “free money,” when actually, it was an interest-free loan you made to the government. If you wait to get your refund until after you create your household budget, you’ll be able to use that money where it will do you the most good.
Finally, with that budget in hand, you can alter your deductions so you don’t get a refund the following year. Many of us know it’s not a good idea to give the government our money only to get it back later, but we can’t resist the reward of a windfall.
However, if you can see the reward of more money to balance your monthly budget, suddenly there’s an equally compelling reward.
Sadly, last year, 79 percent of all individual tax filers got refunds. I was so despondent about this, the Debt.com staff compiled state-by-state numbers to see which one had the biggest tax refunds. It was such a hot topic, CNBC spread the word. Check it out and see where your state ranks.
You get on top of a problem
Finally, if you’re more concerned with last year’s tax debt rather than this year’s tax return, this is the best time to resolve it. Don’t wait. Check out Debt.com’s Tax Debt section for everything you need to know, and proven solutions to every conceivable tax problem.
Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.