Maximize your tax refund

Your money has been waiting patiently in state and federal treasuries, playing Angry Birds and reading the same issue of Men’s Health over and over again. But now it’s time to bring your money home!

Time is running out to file your income tax returns, so here are a few tips to ensure as many of your little green friends as possible make it home this spring.

  • Plan in advance. This one might be off the table for this year, but it’s never too early to start planning for next year. You should begin by keeping accurate, organized records. It’s also important to remain informed of tax laws and how they could affect you.
  • Deduct for charitable donations. There's no denying that giving feels good (except for giving blood, which makes me feel terrible no matter how many shortbread cookies and juice boxes they press into my numb hands). And luckily the IRS wants to reward you for your charitable donations in the form of a deduction. Just make sure you give to a tax-exempt organization that can provide you with a letter detailing the donation. Your roommate’s bongos are a good place to start.
  • Deduct for losses occurring due to disaster or theft. The key to this deduction is that the event that caused the loss must be “identifiable, unexpected and unusual.” This includes car accidents, natural disasters and vandalism, but it does not include natural deterioration or your house cat’s unwavering belief that picture frames, vases and collectible plates belong on the floor, not the shelf, thank you very much.
  • Deduct for job search expenses. You can only deduct for expenses accrued on the job hunt if you’re seeking the same position, but with a different company. First-timers and people looking to shift into a new industry are, unfortunately, out of luck. Be sure you keep receipts and records for every cost associated with the process. Related costs could include printing and mailing résumés, transportation to and from interview locations, and fees paid to employment agencies. Phone calls to and from your prospective employers are even tax-deductible, though you should probably still avoid the urge to call every 20 minutes to ask if they’ve hired you yet.
  • Take the time to know what deductions you qualify for. So maybe your bike was stolen because you forgot to chain it up, or maybe your Uncle Carl isn’t exactly as “tax-exempt” as he claims to be. You may still qualify for certain deductions! Do you pay interest on a home mortgage? Do you pay union dues? Do you have to purchase and clean your own uniform for work? Familiarize yourself with the available credits and deductions for the tax year to ensure you’re not cheating yourself out of extra cash.

According to reports, the majority of filers simply use the standard deduction rather than itemizing – which can leave many feeling short-changed. So keep in mind that if you just can’t be bothered with all of those numbers and decimal points, you can hire a professional do the legwork for you! Just remember: It's your money.

Note: This guest post was written by Jesse Campbell, counselor for Money Management International.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.