by Lila Quintiliani, AFC®, Military Saves Program Manager
Don’t overlook the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable federal income tax credit for low- and moderate-income working individuals, couples, and families. Nationwide during 2018, 25 million eligible workers and families received about $63 billion from the EITC. The average amount received nationwide was about $2,488. But the IRS estimates that about 21 percent of taxpayers who are eligible for the EITC fail to claim it, or are simply unaware that they qualify.
You can't get the EITC unless you file a federal tax return and claim it. Visit irs.gov to determine your eligibility and get additional information.
If this is the first year that you are claiming the credit, use the IRS EITC Assistant to see if you qualify for tax years 2018, 2017, and 2016. You can file any time during the year to claim an EITC refund for up to three previous tax years.
The IRS will not issue refunds for returns that claim the EITC or Additional Child Tax Credit before February 27, 2019. Early filers can make the most of this delay by planning how they will save their refund.
The 2019 SaveYourRefund campaign will once again give tax filers across the country the chance to win cash prizes for saving a portion of their tax refunds.
Now entering its seventh year, SaveYourRefund provides fun and exciting incentives for Americans to build financial security at tax time. In addition to giving away 100 prizes of $100 throughout tax season, the campaign will award two grand prizes of $10,000 each through a photo and caption contest in which tax filers share their motivation for saving.
SaveYourRefund is a partnership between Commonwealth and America Saves. Since 2013, over 15,000 entrants have saved $13 million through SaveYourRefund. Learn more at SaveYourRefund.com.
If you save in an IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you may be eligible for a valuable tax credit called the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, or Saver’s Credit, with a maximum value of $2,000 ($4,000 for married filing jointly). Beginning this year, the Saver’s Credit can also be taken for your contributions to an ABLE account if you’re the designated beneficiary. For 2018, the credit is phased out for married filers with an Adjusted Gross Income of more than $63,000 and single filers with an AGI of more than $31,500.
If you prepare your taxes and realize that you are eligible for this credit, you can still contribute to an IRA for tax year 2018 up until April 15, 2019.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who make $55,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. Locate a VITA or TCE site here.
Avoid refund anticipation products offered by commercial tax preparers – although they get you your tax refund quickly, they come with very high interest rates and fees!
While it’s tempting to treat a refund as “free money,” in reality, many times a refund means that you simply overpaid in withholding and your own money is just being returned to you. If you get a huge refund, you should look at adjusting your withholding tax (use the IRS’ calculator to see where you stand), but you should also have a plan for how you are going to spend your refund. One option is the 30-40-30 plan, with 30 percent of your refund going toward debt. Use 40 percent of your refund toward current needs (and this might include some discretionary spending). Then use the final 30 percent toward savings, whether that’s to build up your emergency fund or for longer-term savings.
Take the America Saves pledge today and build wealth, not debt.