(BPT) - The average tax refund in 2015 was approximately $2,800 according to the IRS, and similar refunds are expected in 2016. For those getting a refund, there are many options to consider in deciding what to do with this unexpected income. The big question is what is the smartest option?
While you may want to splurge with your refund, careful management for the majority of the funds is a smart financial move. A tax refund or any unexpected income can be used to help reach your financial goals without impacting your current standard of living.
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) suggests three things to consider for this year's tax refund:
1. Pay down debt. Take a look at your current debt. Find out which have the highest interest rates and consider paying those down first to help prevent interest from continuing to add up. Another common strategy is to pay off your smallest debt first, then work your way up to the larger ones.
2. Build an emergency fund. Consider using at least a portion of your tax refund to give your emergency fund a boost. Make a goal to stash away three to six months' worth of expenses in cash in an emergency fund you can easily access if you need to, such as a savings account, and use your refund to work toward that goal.
3. Pay the future forward. The positive news is that Americans are living longer. The challenge is that their health may change with aging, and people are now faced with saving for a retirement period of up to 30 years. So if you haven't started to save or want to boost your retirement savings, consider putting your refund in a retirement savings plan. You may also consider taking a portion of your refund for higher education - whether for yourself, a child or grandchild. Or, if you haven't considered life insurance or disability income insurance yet or need to revisit your plans, now's a good time to talk to a financial professional.
A tax refund is money you've worked hard for, and it is OK to do something fun with it. Just make sure you consider committing at least a portion toward your short-term and long-term financial needs and goals.
To learn more about establishing healthy financial goals or to locate a financial professional near you, visit massmutual.com.
(BPT) - There are few things in life more feared than a tax audit. Just the thought of being summoned to appear before the IRS and going through tax returns and old receipts is enough to throw most people into a panic.
A 2016 survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Hyatt Legal Plans, "Improving Employee Wellness through Legal Benefits," found that 46 percent of respondents that were audited in the last five years said that they needed legal support. Navigating through an IRS audit can be a stressful experience and, with recent research finding the hourly rate to use an attorney averaging $290 an hour, it can very expensive too, according to the National Law Journal and ALM Legal Intelligence, Survey of Law Firm Economics from 2013. Fortunately, many Americans may already have access to affordable help for IRS audits.
Here are some things that can make the process of an IRS audit easier:
* Good records
If you do end up being audited, you will likely have to produce receipts for the things you took as deductions, such as charitable donations or self-employment expenses, for example. As long as you've kept all important receipts over the years, you can feel safe knowing that you can show proof for any deductions. As a general rule, you should hold on to any receipts or important documents related to your taxes for up to seven years.
Whether or not you used an accountant to prepare your taxes, you may want to bring along someone to represent you before the IRS. Many accountants will do it if they prepared your return, but if you're going on your own, an attorney can step in and provide representation. Many attorneys specialize in tax matters and can provide guidance and expertise during an IRS audit.
* Have a legal plan
If the cost of using an attorney is intimidating, you can breathe easier if you are one of the many individuals with a prepaid legal plan through their employer that gives them access to attorneys for a low monthly fee. Legal plan members can contact attorneys for assistance with every step of an IRS audit, helping them to gather the necessary documents, discussing the audit process and appearing before the IRS if needed.
"Legal plan members can feel safe during tax time knowing that if the IRS ever comes calling, they have someone to turn to," says Ingrid Tolentino, CEO of Hyatt Legal Plans. "For as little as $20 a month, group legal plans provided through an employer cover using an attorney for nearly any tax issue that comes up, from tax collection issues to tax audits."
For more information about how legal plans work, visit www.legalplans.com.
To avoid scrambling as tax season draws to a close, here are some tips to help you prepare and file your taxes – even at the last minute.
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