You must have been pleasantly surprised to find out you'd be getting a refund from the IRS — especially if it was a large sum. And while you may have considered this type of windfall a stroke of good fortune, is it really?
The IRS issued over 112 million federal income tax refunds, averaging $2,895, for tax year 2016.1 You probably wouldn't pay someone $240 each month in order to receive $2,900 back, without interest, at the end of a year. But that's essentially what a tax refund is — a short-term loan to the government.
Because you received a large refund on your tax return this year, you may want to reevaluate your federal income tax withholding. That way you could end up taking home more of your pay and putting it to good use.
When determining the correct withholding amount, your objective is to have just enough withheld to prevent you from having to owe a large amount of money or scramble for cash at tax time next year, or from owing a penalty for having too little withheld.
It's generally a good idea to check your withholding periodically. This is particularly important when something changes in your life; for example, if you get married, divorced, or have a child; you or your spouse change jobs; or your financial situation changes significantly.
Furthermore, the implementation of the new tax law at the beginning of 2018 means your withholding could be off more than it might be in a typical year. Employers withhold taxes from paychecks based on W-4 information and IRS withholding tables. The IRS released 2018 calculation tables reflecting the new rates and rules earlier this year. Even so, the old W-4 and worksheet you previously gave to your employer reflect deductions and credits that have changed or been eliminated under the new tax law.
The IRS has revised a useful online withholding calculator that can help you determine the appropriate amount of withholding. You still need to complete and submit a new W-4 to your employer to make any adjustments. Visitirs.gov for more information.
What is the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit?
Tax deductions and credits are terms often used together when talking about taxes. While you probably know that they can lower your tax liability, you might wonder about the difference between the two.
A tax deduction reduces your taxable income, so when you calculate your tax liability, you're doing so against a lower amount. Essentially, your tax obligation is reduced by an amount equal to your deductions multiplied by your marginal tax rate. For example, if you're in the 22% tax bracket and have $1,000 in tax deductions, your tax liability will be reduced by $220 ($1,000 x 0.22 = $220). The reduction would be even greater if you are in a higher tax bracket.
A tax credit, on the other hand, is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax liability. Generally, after you've calculated your federal taxable income and determined how much tax you owe, you subtract the amount of any tax credit for which you are eligible from your tax obligation. For example, a $500 tax credit will reduce your tax liability by $500, regardless of your tax bracket.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law late last year, made significant changes to the individual tax landscape, including changes to several tax deductions and credits.
The legislation roughly doubled existing standard deduction amounts and repealed the deduction for personal exemptions. The higher standard deduction amounts will generally mean that fewer taxpayers will itemize deductions going forward.
The law also made changes to a number of other deductions, such as those for state and local property taxes, home mortgage interest, medical expenses, and charitable contributions.
As for tax credits, the law doubled the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 for each qualifying child under the age of 17. In addition, it created a new $500 nonrefundable credit available for qualifying dependents who are not qualifying children under age 17. The tax law provisions expire after 2025.
For more information on the various tax deductions and credits that are available to you, visit irs.gov.
1Internal Revenue Service, 2018