Thursday, August 11, 2016

Budgeting for Back-to-School


 
Pop quiz: Do you know how much you’re spending on all those back-to-school notebooks, clothes and backpacks?
Answer: They can easily add up to $500 to $1,000 per child in the first 30 days of school.
Surprised? According to the National Retail Federation, most households spend more than $600 a year on back-to-school shopping. For college students, that figure rises to about $900. Altogether, Americans will spend more than $20 billion preparing for the return to the classroom this year. But, there are back-to-school savings opportunities out there. Here’s how NOT to get schooled on back-to-school expenses.
Put in Planning Time
First, gather any back-to-school supply lists from your kid’s schools, add the clothing and any extras they’ll need, then look through the calendar to try to predict the cost of upcoming school activities. As parents, we often get surprised by expenses that we shouldn’t. With your list in hand, it’s easier to set a realistic budget for each category. Then, stick to the list! Because impulse buys are abundant at back-to-school hot spots.
Inventory Your House First
Before taking your list to the stores, search your own home for items that could fit the bill. You might already have a number of prequisite products, such as pens and empty folders, in your home office. Or items from last year that can be reused again – think pencil cases, scissors, etc.
Focus on Big Ticket Items
There are so many ways to save these days: coupons, incentive programs, rebates, weekly specials and online-only deals. To cut through the clutter, focus on finding the best process for the most expensive items on your list. Don’t worry so much about what the prices of the crayons or pencils are, because you’re going to find pretty good deals everywhere on those. You’ll save the most money on those big items, as well as time and gas money.
And get those important items early to make sure you get what you need – for instance, a calculator or other supplies that need to be a particular brand or model. For the more generic items, prices typically drop at the last minute and/or late in the season.
Follow Your Favorite Stores
Back-to-school clothing sales start appearing in mid-July and run through the end of August, and the options can be dizzying. They’re putting lots of coupons out there, so try keeping track of your favorite retailer’s deals by following them on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Then use those coupons in conjunction with sales to really get the biggest bang for your buck.
And consider getting on stores mailing lists. Sign up for store e-mails early and keep your eyes peeled. Think Staples, OfficeMax, Office Depot, Best Buy, Target and Walmart and any other store where you would regularly shop for school supplies. Additionally, these shops will likely offer back-to-school sales and coupons, sometimes exclusive to their mailing list. Plus, you can comparison shop from the comfort of your inbox. When back-to-school season is over, you can always unsubscribe.
Price Match Cheap School Supply Deals
Doorbuster back-to-school deals tend to limit the number of items a buyer can purchase. But, you can price match a product at other office supply stores and even Walmart. Doing this increases the number of items you can get for those low prices.
Always Search for Coupons
Whether you are standing in line at the checkout counter or filling your cart online, get in the habit of doing a quick search online for coupons before purchasing. While you might not find a coupon to meet your needs, you may find one and end up cutting your bill significantly, all because you typed a few words into a search engine.
And keep tabs on daily deal sites. Just like regular retailers, daily deal sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, OpenSky and Gilt offer back-to-school savings as the summer winds down. As an added bonus, you can manage your preferences, so these sites will alert you when deals pop up for particular products.
Be Cheap – But Not Too Cheap – on Backpacks
Backpacks are the big budget busters for families. The best way to save on a new backpack is to always avoid the big name brands and more importantly, always avoid the character-themed backpacks. Those are always priced 20-30% higher and simply not worth the extra money. However, you still want to buy quality backpacks, such as Timberland, Rockland, LL Bean and Embark, that will actually last through the entire school year.
Buy Your Textbooks Used
Since 2006, the cost of college textbooks has increased by 73% - that’s more than four times the rate of inflation! Today, individual textbooks often cost more than $200 and are sometimes as much as $400. However, buying a used textbook can offer significant savings. One algebra textbook, which retails for more than $200 on Amazon, is available used on the site for just $45.
Comparison shop for textbooks as well. If you want to save even more money on your textbooks, do some comparison shopping before making a purchase. Try TUN’s Textbook Save Engine or CampusBook’s search feature to determine which options are the cheapest for individual books. Be sure to look up textbooks using the ISBN numbers, so you can be sure you’re comparing the right versions.
And did you know you can license an e-textbook online? You can also save money by licensing (similar to renting/borrowing) electronic copies of your textbooks. Typically, textbooks are available for set periods of time, such as one semester.
Take Advantage of Tech Deals for College Students
Many stores provide discounts on electronics for college and high school students. Check out the Apple Education Pricing page or Best Buy’s College Student Deals. Be prepared to provide proof of your student eligibility with an ID card or college transcript.
Avoid Cold-Weather Clothes
Retailers are ready to sell you on all their fall and winter clothes, but few of these items have been marked down at this point in the summer. And frankly, your kids won’t need them just yet. Wait until you see more sales on cold-weather gear to stock up.
Get Your Kids Involved
If you bring your kids with you while you are back-to-school shopping, make them budget. It’s never too early to start teaching your kids some financial literacy. By establishing a budget for their back-to-school shopping, you can make them part of the process while teaching them that money is a limited resource. This also works with extra-curricular activities. Does it cost $50 to join Spanish Club? Varsity volleyball uniforms and fees are $150? If so, then they need to know that their activity of choice is not only a time commitment, but a financial commitment as well.
 
"You're off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!"
~ Dr. Seuss

Monday, July 18, 2016

14 Fun and Frugal Summer Activities for Kids

It’s summer in Michigan and it’s hot out. If you have kids at home, you know how difficult it can be to keep them occupied … without spending a ton of money. We’ve come up with a list of 14 fun and frugal summer activities for you and your kids to try out!
  1. Take in a free or cheap movie. The new JC Cinema (former Cheap Flicks) in Battle Creek has great movie times for kids and some low ticket prices. And check out Bogar Theatre, downtown Marshall, for BYOB Monday's (bring your own bowl) and get your popcorn for free!
  2. Go swimming. Have a gym membership that also has a pool? How about the YMCA? Better yet, head over to Full Blast and for just $9, kids can use both the indoor and outdoor water parks for the day!
  3. Play board games. Let the kids take turns choosing games and have a good old fashion game day!
  4. Go bowling. Marshall Lanes has a Wednesday special where you can get three games of bowling for just $6!
  5. Head to IKEA. The closest IKEA might be in Canton, but you can head over there for the free AC, drop the little ones (who are potty trained) off at Smalland and enjoy an hour of free browsing. Then grab a $1 ice cream cone on your way out.
  6. Head to the library. Go to the library for free wifi and a plethora of books. Marshall District Library has weekly classes for both young tots and older kids. From storytime to game nights and more! And of course there is the summer reading program to participate in with incentives for readers of all ages.
  7. Starbucks. For the cost of a cup of coffee and a treat for the kids you can get an hour of internet browsing and they can read comic books on the tablet.
  8. Dollar Store finds. Give each kid a dollar and head to the local dollar store (or Target’s Dollar Spot). Everyone will find something fun to bring home and you won't be out a ton of money.
  9. Park time. Head to Ketchum Park, Bridge Park or even your area elementary school and spend an hour or so playing on the playground.
  10. Backyard cool off. Set up a baby pool or slip and slide in the shade, and sip on icy lemonade, homemade popsicles and chilled summer fruits. You can even have a picnic in the shade or backyard camping experience!
  11. Hibernate. During the coolest parts of the day spend some time outside and use the middle of the day (10-4) to stay indoors and nap, color, have a little screen time and/or play games.
  12. Get your build on. Most kids enjoy building things. Get out the Legos, Lincoln Logs, Playmobile and similar toys and have a giant build-a-thon! The only rule is you have to use everything.
  13. Free museum days. Kids N’ Stuff in Albion has a free day each month. Or check out the Kalamazoo Valley Museum where general admission is free during regular operating hours!
  14. Take a craft class. Check out Michael’s in Battle Creek and sign up for a craft class. Learn to paint. Create a scrapbook. Find new uses for yarn, and much more. Most classes start at just $5!

If you want your kids to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money. ~ Abigail Van Buren





Friday, July 8, 2016

Cut Back on Spending With These 10 Tips

Whether you’re cutting costs because you need to or want to, the process should be manageable and positive. These 10 tips can help reduce your spending this week without making major sacrifices or time commitments.

1. Make a Budget.
Before taking action, sit down and figure out what you have to work with, then prioritize your expenditures. Making a budget is the most important thing you can do because then you will be able to understand where your money is going and where you can afford to make cuts.
2
     2. Create a Shopping List.
Sticking to a list will make you less likely to buy impulsively and forget necessary items, both of which can quickly increase the amount of money spent in a week. You will also save money on gas because you won’t be making as many trips to the store.

     3. Clip Coupons and Compare Prices.
Buy an additional copy of the Sunday paper and check through all the store circulars you receive. You can also find coupons online. If couponing isn’t your thing, spend a little time researching where you can get the most for your money.

4. Shop Smarter at the Grocery Store.
Try cutting back on grocery shopping overall to use up what you have before purchasing more. However, if you need to make a trip to the supermarket, avoid going hungry and try to make some compromises. Find alternatives for those expensive items on your list. If you like organic food, consider buying only organic for the produce most susceptible to chemical residue. Instead of buying all organic.

5. Pack Your Lunch.
Although it might not be the most enticing option, the money you can save by bringing lunch from home instead of eating out every day can really add up. To add variety, try getting your co-workers involved, too. Get a group together and pick a day for each person to bring lunch for everyone. You will save money, eat healthier and have fun at the same time.

6. Cancel Email Deals and Sale Alerts.
Avoid the temptation of unnecessary shopping by unsubscribing to daily deal emails and other sale announcements. Get out of the mindset that shopping sales when you don’t need to shop is saving you money. Sure, you are going to spend less money that you normally would have, but would you have spent that money anyway.

7. Buy Things Used.
You can save a lot of money shopping at thrift stores, yard sales or even on Craigslist and eBay. Stop thinking that everything you buy has to be brand new. And just because you are buying used doesn’t mean you are buying junk.

8. Drive Less, Bike More.
Not everyone can cut out driving completely, so focus on making reasonable compromises. A lot of people cannot bike everywhere because of long commutes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a bike to get to places locally. Not only will you spend less on gas, but you will get more exercise too.

9. Evaluate Your Utilities and Services.
Call your cable and internet providers to see if you can negotiate a lower bill. If not, consider reducing or cutting those services altogether. There are so many other options out there for less, like Netflix and Hulu. To keep your utility costs down, opt for fans instead of air conditioning and turn off all unused lights and appliances.

10. Save Before You Spend.
Instead of rushing to the store on payday, consider the long-term benefits of reducing your spending today. Another way to cut spending is to adopt a ‘save-first’ mentality. Whether you store money in a separate savings account, an emergency fund or in retirement savings, make those contributions right away, before you spend a dime on anything beyond the necessities.

Finally, establish good habits for the future. Consider turning these immediate changes into long-term habits to keep your overall spending low. Don’t say no to everything because you are much more likely to give up if that happens. Frugal living isn’t about waiting for things, it is about spending less on the things that don’t matter to you as much, so you can spend more money and time on the things that do matter. 

"We make ourselves rich, by making our wants few." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Marriage and Finances

Summertime equals wedding season. And with a wedding, comes couples facing the task of merging their finances. 

Experts agree that finances can be the number one cause of marital strain. Money issues are so troublesome that people who say they’re experiencing stress in their relationship cite finances as the number one reason – easily beating out the second place contender: annoying habits. Money issues are also responsible for 22% of all divorces, making it the third leading cause.

This may seem like a grim prognosis for married couples, but it doesn’t have to be. There are various steps that experts say couples can take to avoid letting money matters get the best of their marriage. So whether you’re about to say “I do” or money problems have you thinking maybe “I don’t anymore” the following tips can help prevent money from destroying your relationship.

Discuss your demons.
Experts agree that fully disclosing your financial situation with your significant other BEFORE tying the knot is a must, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. This is the time to mention outstanding debt, loans, income sources, investments or other financial assets or obligations.

If you’re in a second or third marriage and you have alimony or child support payments or even if you expect to provide financial support to aging parents or adult children in the future, that is something you need to address as early as possible.

Define shared goals.
You talk about building a life together – buying a home, having children and their college education, but what about finances? Consider talking about your personal financial goals. Are they the same? Financial planning might not be romantic, but there is some peace of mind in sharing the same goals.

Rein in the purchases and the debt.
A large amount of debt is the number one cause of stress in a marriage. Much of this debt can start to accrue early on in a marriage when a couple is merging finances but still spending a lot.

Newly married couples have a tendency to purchase things beyond their economic capacity. Young couples tend to want everything immediately and they end up getting themselves deep in debt before they are ready to handle the responsibility. So how do you handle the urge to want things? You’d be surprised at the number of purchases you don’t make if you sleep on it.

Understand your partner’s money mindset.
A lot of fights between spouses that seem as though they’re about money aren’t about money at all. It’s actually a clash of temperaments. And temperament is a huge potential source of conflict. One person may be upset that their spouse is spending too much, but the issue may not be just that they can’t afford it but may be something deeper, such as a real fear of not being able to pay their bills someday.

It’s also important to have an understanding of how your spouse views money and how they were raised around money. Were their parents frugal or big spenders? Did you live on a budget? Did your parents talk about money or was it a taboo subject? What is your spouse’s greatest fear when it comes to their finances? All of these answers will play into a marriage and how that partner treats money today.

Establish a joint account.
It can be hard for new couples to merge finances immediately after getting married, but it’s almost always good to establish a joint account. Separating finances may work in the short term, because nothing needs to be worked out. But things change when you need to look down the road.

Expenses that usually need to be covered by the joint account includes houses, cars, child care, utilities, etc.

Don’t ignore the “B” word.
Don’t sugarcoat it: you need to have a household budget. It’s the most effective way to keep track of your money, however only around 32% of people have one.

Budgeting seems tedious, but having one can yield significant benefits, not least of which is preventing the marital turmoil that arises when one or both spouses are in the dark about where their money is going.

The good news is that technology has made budgeting a lot easier with the use of online tools and apps that track your accounts and spending for you.

Don’t keep secrets.
Keeping secrets from your spouse can put you on the fast track to marital mayhem. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon, especially when it comes to keeping secrets about money. Roughly six million consumers in the U.S. have concealed financial accounts such as checking accounts, savings account or credit cards from their spouses, partners or significant others they live with (according to a poll by CreditCards.com).

So many couples are hiding money or debt or charges and then the spouse finds out and its war in their marriage. While no one should be micromanaged or expected to disclose every purchase, hiding accounts or lying about big purchases can be toxic to the relationship and can lead to bigger emotional issues down the line.

Give each other some breathing room.
In fact, conferring with your spouse about all of your purchases can feel very restricting – especially when you find yourself having to defend a purchase that your partner doesn’t endorse. That’s why various experts suggest having a separate budget for each spouse to spend on discretionary items of their choosing. Have a line item on the family budget for “fun money.” These are funds that can be used any way they choose and partners don’t need to report back to one another as to what they used those funds for.

All in all, you have to plan, earn, save and spend together. Otherwise, you are essentially living two different lifestyles under one roof.

"A marriage without shared goals and money is just a joint venture." 


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Personal Papers: What to Keep and What to Throw Away

Stashes of old, paid bills, expired life insurance policies, receipts for broken gadgets, and cancelled checks for haircuts you got in college – sound like your filing system? It’s easy to get busy and let things pile up, especially when it comes to paperwork. Or if you’re like the vast majority of people, you’re simply unsure of what you should keep and what is safe to toss.

So, crank the tunes, grab a few trash bags and a paper shredder, and have plenty of caffeine handy: it’s time to clear the clutter! Here’s a basic rundown of what to toss and what to treasure – and for how long.

Toss into the trash:
  • ·    Statement “fillers:” particularly those offers for overpriced or needless services that come in your credit card statement.
  •      Paid bills/receipts (unless deductible): once you have paid a bill, and have verified that the payment has cleared your account and been credited correctly, shred the bill.
  •      Pay stubs (older than 1 year): once you’ve reconciled your paycheck – or checked that the information on your paystubs matches your annual W-2, then shred the stubs.
  •      Warranties, manuals, repair records and receipts: electronics all tend to come with a file cabinet’s worth of paper. When you open the box, weed through everything and find what you really need, such as the warranty and “quick-start” guide.

Keep temporarily (until updated, sold or disposed of):
  • ·    Current health benefit information and insurance policies (cars, homes and other valuables): until claims are settled, keep copies of the actual policies so you know what’s covered – and how to file a claim in the first place.
  •      Loan agreements: keep the most current terms and conditions for your credit card accounts, and toss the old. Your monthly statements can be tossed as soon as you reconcile. Same with your current mortgage and car loan paperwork. If you sell or pay off the car or house, keep confirmation of this activity for at least a year or so, particularly until you receive a clear title to a vehicle or piece of real estate.
  •      Canceled checks/receipts for big-dollar purchases and home improvements: don’t go hog wild holding onto every outrageous dry-cleaning bill though. Think jewelry, furniture, art, home improvements and plasma TVs. Should flood, hungry termites, or fire sweep through, these will help you prove to the insurance company how cool your stuff was.

Keep long-term (until seven years after the asset is sold):
  • ·    Investment records: keep monthly or quarterly statements until you receive your annual summary. If everything is correct, shred the monthly/quarterly statements and retain the annual. Retain annual statements until you close the account.  
  •      IRA contribution/withdrawal records (after you retire or close an account): you aren’t required to keep records for IRA accounts, with one exception: you do need to track any contributions (not earnings, just money you deposited to the account) that were not deducted from you taxes.
  •      Tax records: you are required by law to keep tax records for three years, most experts recommend seven.
  •      Real estate records: although the laws have been liberalized on capital gains for house sales, you may still need to track the cost basis for your home or series of homes. Keep real estate transactions (buys and sells) for each house and receipts for any large capital improvements you make.
  •      W-2 forms: keep these until you start collecting Social Security. You want to make sure you’re getting credit for all those years you worked for The Man.

Keep forever:
  • ·   Birth/adoption records
  •     Death certificates
  •     Deeds
  •     Divorce/marriage papers
  •     Education/employment history
  •     Filed tax returns (and supporting documents)
  •     Military records
  •     Heath records
  •     Life insurance policies
  •     Wills (plus current living will and durable power of attorney)
  •     Social Security Card

And since you won’t need to access these documents regularly, they should be kept in a secure location, like a safe deposit box.

You’ll be amazed at the difference a little organization makes. People don’t realize how much they pay as a result of having their financial papers in disarray – a late credit card charge here, a lost tax deduction there. Even greater, though, may be the long-term mental and financial benefits. Once you’re organized, you can focus on your mental energy and the really important stuff, like your investments and your financial goals. Getting your financial papers in order pays big dividends in peace of mind. 

"Clutter is not just the stuff on your floor ... it's anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living." ~ Peter Walsh

Friday, March 25, 2016

National Credit Union Youth Month - Credit Union Strong!


It’s like Christmas around here. You know why? Because we’re only a week away from April 1st! April Fools Day? No! It’s the start of National Credit Union Youth Month!

National Credit Union Youth Month is an entire month dedicated to financial education for young people. Credit unions around the nation celebrate in a number of different ways, from activities and presentations, to community seminars and giveaways. And here at MCCU, we’re no different!  

This year’s theme is Credit Union Strong. Young people face a bewildering financial landscape in their immediate future—one where technology has made spending as easy as breathing and the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket. That’s why we believe it’s more important than ever to ensure our youth possess strong money management skills.

As a not-for-profit financial cooperative, our core values include member education and social responsibility. We care about the community where we live and work, and the people in it. We look forward to watching the next generation grow and make it even better.

By instilling the habit of saving at a young age, offering positive encouragement, and providing financial education, we can prepare our community’s youngest members for brighter futures by helping them grow into financially capable adults. Credit union strong means having the money skills to embrace an awesome future, and leaving your community better than you found it. That’s why we take our mission of helping youth so seriously.

Of course, we realize the biggest influence on anyone’s life is his or her parents. So if you want to start your kids on a path to financial strength, participating in Credit Union Youth Month is a good start.

Bring your financial fitness buffs into Marshall Community Credit Union and help them pump up their savings!

Here’s what we have planned in April:

Millionaire for a Day Contest
Want to be a millionaire? You can be! Make a deposit into any MCCU youth savings or CU In School account April 1-30, 2016, to be automatically entered. The more deposits you make, the more entries you’ll get! 
On May 2nd, one name will be randomly drawn and the winner will receive a $1,000,000.00 deposit into their savings account from MCCU! The winner will also receive free limo service from school to the restaurant of their choice for dinner. Along with a $25 Visa gift card. 
*Millionaire for a Day funds are deposited on hold into the winners S1 savings account for one business day. Winner keeps the interest earned. Current S1 rates apply.


Super Saver Challenge
Two runner ups will each receive a $25 deposit into their MCCU savings account.

Battle Creek Bombers VIP Experience
Interested youth can stop into either MCCU branch location and enter to win one of three BC Bombers VIP Experience giveaways! VIP Experience includes the following

  • VIP Parking
  • BC Bombers goodie bag
  • Behind-the-scenes tour of the ballpark
  • On-field visit (with player meet and greet)
  • A ballpark meal (hot dog, chips and a drink)
  • Option to throw the first pitch
  • Shag balls on field during player warmups
  • Option to play batboy/girl during the game
  • And you and your family get the “best seats in the house!”
No purchase is necessary. Any MCCU youth member can enter. Available game dates include June 18th, June 24th and July 2nd

Kids Day – May 7th
Join us at the Bogar Theatre in Marshall on Saturday, May 7th at 10:00am for the new release of Norm of the North! FREE tickets are available at both MCCU locations beginning Monday, April 11th. Tickets include free admission, small pop, small popcorn and MCCU swag bag (swag bag for kids only). Limited ticket supply available, so don’t wait! Everyone entering the theatre must have a ticket.

Cash Giveaway at MHS!
Marshall High School students are encouraged to stop by the MCCU Student-Run Branch on Fridays in April where they can WIN CASH just by using the SRB! Make a deposit, cash a check, transfer money, whatever! If your transaction is at least $5 or more, you’ll be able to “Spin the Wheel of Savings.” Participating students can earn anywhere from $1 to $20 on the wheel! 

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." - Will Smith

Monday, February 29, 2016

6 Tips for Getting Your BIGGEST Tax Refund



Most of us have no problem when it comes to shopping around to save $100 on a vacation flight. Or using an app to save $10 on a meal at a restaurant. But shop around for a tax break? Who does that? You, that’s who!
If your goal is to get the biggest refund possible, check out our suggestions for helping you boost your bank account!
  • Increase Withholding

The information you provide on your W-4 determines how much money is withheld from your paycheck each pay period and paid toward your personal income taxes. The calculation is based on the number of exemptions that you claim. Generally, the fewer exemptions you claim, the bigger refund you can expect at tax time. Using a W-4 Withholding Calculator like this one can help you estimate what you should be claiming, depending on what your needs/wants are:  https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/IRS-Withholding-Calculator.
Some factors to consider when choosing the number of allowances you claim include: claiming allowances for yourself, your spouse and your qualifying children/dependents. Taking an allowance for filing head of household, claiming more than $1,500 for child and dependent care expenses, working more than one job, and having a spouse who works (and is also claiming allowances).
So if your goal is to increase the dollar amount you receive in your refund, you can go to your employers Human Resource Department and request to change your W-4 tax form. The times of year you’re allowed to make this change may depend on your company’s policies, but generally, it be done at any time.
  • Revisit Your Filing Status

Your filing status determines your standard deduction, your filing requirements, the credits you are eligible to receive and the amount of tax you pay or refund you receive. Also how you file, such as single, head of household, married filing separately or jointly, and others, can greatly influence the amount of money you receive in your refund.
Some things to consider;
·         In general, married couples tend to file together (jointly), and there are some tax breaks available only to that group. However, there are times you may want to consider filing “married filing separately:”
    • One spouse has a large amount of unreimbursed medical expenses (such as COBRA payments).
    • One spouse has a more than average amount of miscellaneous deductions. For example, a spouse that spends a lot of time on the road or in the air, or an unemployed spouse looking for work may be able to deduct long distance phone calls, resume prep, career counseling and networking.
    • One spouse is behind on child support or student loan debts.

·         Tax reductions from claiming dependents can cut a single parent’s tax bill when he or she files as head of household.
Single taxpayers who care for parents may also qualify for the more advantageous head of household status providing they paid for more than half the cost of maintaining that parent’s residence for the whole year. Note: your parent need not live with you, when you pay more than half of their cost to live in a home for seniors or rest home.
This year, check to make sure your filing status is giving you the biggest bang for your buck!
  • Deduct All Donations

Standard deductions versus itemizing. Which is better? The standard tax deduction is a deduction set by the IRS that allows you to reduce your taxable income if you cannot take advantage of more tax deductions by itemizing. And although standard deductions will help lower your taxes, if you take a little time and gather up some of your receipts, you may find that you can itemize your deductions to get a bigger refund.
Some common expenses that are deductible include:
·         Property – you can deduct donated real estate, furniture, clothing, automobiles, electronic equipment and office supplies.
·         Mileage – if you use your car to assist a non-profit, you may deduct the portion of mileage that was used.
·         Cash – cash donations are also deductible.
·         Tithes – you may deduct tithes to churches and certain other types of religious organizations. 
  • Maximize Your IRA Contributions

One of the most highly recommended ways to increase your tax refund is to increase your contributions to your retirement fund. A win-win!
Contributing to an IRA not only facilitates saving for retirement, but placing money into the IRA lowers total taxable income because it comes off the top. The more you contribute, the less of your income is subject to taxes. And you have until April 15th to open a traditional IRA for the previous tax year, so you still have time to benefit! And, this gives you the flexibility of claiming the credit on your return, filing early and using your refund to open the account. Be careful though, be sure to make the IRA contribution by the deadline and know your limits. There’s a maximum amount that can be applied for lowering taxable income. Consult a tax professional and/or a financial planner to ensure your IRA contributions are made on time and in the right dollar amount.
  • Become Credit Savvy and Refund Happy

A tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction of the tax you owe, and a refundable tax credit will allow you a credit beyond your tax liability. Credits generally work better than deductions as refund boosters. And in essence, for each credit dollar, your taxes go down a dollar.
You’ve probably heard of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Working families, individuals, people who are self-employed and others who have a moderate to low income may qualify. The EITC decreases the amount of taxes owed and may qualify you for a refund.
Other credits to consider include;
    • Child and Dependent Care Credit – if you paid someone to care for your child, spouse or dependent last year, you may be able to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit.
    • Energy Tax Credit - Taxpayers who upgrade their homes to improve energy efficiency or make use of renewable energy may be eligible for tax credits to offset some of the costs.
    • Education Credits - An education credit helps with the cost of higher education by reducing the amount of tax owed on your tax return. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may get a refund. There are two education credits available: the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
For more information on available credits, visit the IRS’s website at https://www.irs.gov/Credits-&-Deductions.
  • Timing Can Boost Your Refund

Taxpayers who watch the calendar improve their chances of getting a larger refund.
    • If you can, pay January’s mortgage payment before December 31st and get the added interest for your mortgage interest deduction. Remember this one for next year!
    • Schedule health-related treatments and exams in the last quarter of the year to boost your medical expense deduction potential.
    • Paying property taxes by New Year’s Eve could make the difference between itemizing and taking the standard deduction, possibly resulting in a bigger refund.
    • If you are self-employed, you can pay your fourth quarter state estimated taxes in December, rather than in January when they’re normally due, to increase your itemizing potential.

The sooner you e-file with direct deposit, the sooner you will receive your tax refund, allowing you to put that money to good use. Do you have some debt left over from the holidays? Or a loan you’d like to pay off? If you receive your tax refund soon, you can pay down your debt earlier and eliminate some of the interest charges.

So what are you waiting for? Get the refund you deserve! 

"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the Income Tax."
Albert Einstein