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Take the long view on your tax returns
Many of us, especially those who live paycheck to paycheck, can’t see beyond the weekly bills.
We borrow money for cars, looking only at the monthly payments instead of the final cost of the car, thousands more, because it was purchased with the bank’s money instead of our own.
The same perspective is making itself felt now that the 1040 forms have been filed and refunds beginning to arrive, despite the recent and expected shutdowns of the federal government.
According to early Internal Revenue Service data released Friday, the average tax refund this year is $1,865, compared to $2,035 last year, a drop of 8.4 percent.
That doesn’t sit well with many wage earners, who heard the White House promise in October 2017 that the average family would get a “$4,000 raise” once the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed.
The final numbers are far from in, but that promise may be closer to the truth than many coming out of Washington.
The difference is, the savings came from changes in the withholding tables, which meant most of us have been taking home a little more throughout the year.
Living paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s easy for that savings to disappear.
Many who planned to use their refunds to pay off debts or make a major purchase are having to change their plans because of much smaller checks.
And, many of those who usually expect to owe the government money may be unpleasantly surprised by a larger tax bill this year.
The Government Accountability Office said in July that more than 20 percent of taxpayers will owe the IRS when April arrives, and people who take a lot of real estate-, tax- or work-related deductions are likely to pay more as well.
The situation points up the need for all of us to keep a closer watch on our personal finances, and have the self-discipline to save money throughout the year, rather than counting on the IRS to pay back money that was already ours — after collecting and saving it all year, interest-free.
Check with your tax preparer or use online tools to calculate what changes you could make to avoid a similar crisis next year.