Call me crazy, (and my wife and kids can attest to that fact!). It’s the beginning of the holiday season (you know, spring, summer,
You can tall the holiday season has begun in full force when commercials 24/7 offer and repeat and repeat stuff you probably don’t need and cannot really afford, all with an idyllic backdrop of lightly falling snow and perhaps a Santa with his troupe of reindeer frolicking playing their legendary games.
And speaking of games, if we’re completely honest, we all have one or more games we play in our lives. As kids, we learned the game of how to look and act like we were thrilled to go to Auntie Em’s house for Thanksgiving when we really just wanted to stay home parked in front of the Playstation console. As parents, many moms learned the game of soccer (really how many soccer moms really played soccer when they were kids?) and how to appear enthusiastic about their darling offspring’s practices, games and associated expenses. As dads, we learned how to play ‘Stern Dad‘ with our sons as they venture outside the sandbox of Generally Acceptable Activities Publically Acknowledged (GAAPA), while at the same time remembering our own youthful exuberance hopefully still unknown by our own ‘Stern Dads‘).
So, there’s games we all play. And it’s all Fun and Games as long as everyone involved understands all the rules and the roles of the players, everybody plays fair, and nobody gets hurt. Let’s consider a Game I like to call Financial Reality. In the Game of Financial Reality, there are millions of extraordinary people like you and I, working hard trying to provide a decent standard of living for our families. In the Game of Financial Reality, there are employers, landlords, pastors, lawyers, bankers and tax preparers.
- employers – hire, fire, set our objectives and provide our compensation for work performed.
- landlords – collect rent and maintain the premises many of us live in
- pastors – provide spiritual leadership and mentoring
- lawyers – either help us in the fight against evil or are the center of evil (?)
- bankers – guardians of our wealth, manage (and manipulate?) the flow of currency to keep the economy going while receiving a consistent percentage for their time and trouble
- tax preparers – aid us in complying with the IRS and our state and local tax rules and regulations by translating our activities in the Game of Financial Reality into a multitude of lines and forms known as an annual income tax return.
Ok, are we clear on who the players and their roles in the Game of Financial Reality? Let’s roll the dice and play!
I landed on the ‘Get Holiday Cash‘ space. Hmm, how do I do that? I get my normal take home pay each payday, less those deductions that eat up so much of my pay. How do I ‘Get Holiday Cash‘ in this game?
Two players jump up almost simultaneously and say that’s simple. Mr. GreenSquare, a tax preparer, tells me I can get an Advance against my next income tax refund by getting Line of Credit from his people. He assures me it’s really simple, just bring in your last paystubs, your last tax return, and $49 and my tax preparers will fix you right up.
Mr. Jackson, another tax preparer, tells me not to pay any attention to Mr GreenSquare. I can come into his offices and start my next tax return now and he’ll give me a loan for the holidays based on my next tax refund. It’s a 0% interest loan and he’ll even make sure I finish preparing and filing my tax return with his tax preparers.
Wow, the Game of Financial Reality just got confusing to me real fast. So, I ask to see the rules (remember how they’re printed on the inside of the cover?). I see the rules for employers, landlords, pastors, lawyers, bankers, and tax preparers. I ask “which player looks out for my financial interests and help me keep the most of my hard earned money?”
The employers and landlords shrugged. The pastor said ‘really not my area of expertise’. The lawyers looked at each other and laughed. The bankers pondered a moment and then one admitted ‘we tell you that’s what we do, but we’re really more interested in our financial well-being than yours.’
I looked at the tax preparers – Mr. GreenSquare and Mr Jackson. They sat quietly. “Well,” I said. “What about you guys? Aren’t tax preparers supposed to be looking out for my best interests? Why do I have to pay you either a large fee or interest to borrow against my refund? Isn’t it my money?”
“Oh, yes,” they both answered. “But we’ll give you access to some of your refund money now for the holidays so you don’t have to wait until you file your tax return and get your refund next spring”.
“OK, let me get this straight,” I said. “I can pay an upfront fee and get a line of credit at a high interest rate from you, Mr GreenSquare and then pay you back plus interest when I get my refund next spring.” “Yes, that’s right and don’t forget we’ll be here to help you file your income tax return, we already have most of your information in our computer,” he replied.
“Or, Mr Jackson, I can come to you now and start my tax return with your tax preparers and you’ll loan me money at 0% interest against my tax refund and I can pay you back when I get my refund, ” I asked. “That’s right, and don’t forget we’ll finish your tax return and you’ll pay us at that time.”
I got up from the table. “I’m sorry folks, but I don’t want to play this game any longer. The players and their roles are too blurred. I thought a tax preparer was supposed to help me understand the rules so I keep more of my hard earned money.” All the players nodded and said “Oh that’s a tax professional. We were going to include a tax professional in our game, but they refused to play with us.”
So, I decided to rethink my approach to getting Holiday Cash. Here’s what I learned from a tax professional. Over 100 million Americans got refunds from the IRS in 2015 and again in 2014. The average refund amount in each year was around $2,800.
Simply put, the IRS overcharged over 100 million hard working people $2,800 a year in each of the last two years. For Americans getting paid every two weeks, that’s over $100 each and every paycheck all year.
And, some of America’s largest tax preparation companies take advantage of the IRS overcharging Americans by charging large fees each year or interest to essentially borrow own OWN MONEY instead of showing us how to avoid paying too much tax in the first place.
Here’s a novel idea from a tax professional. How about – instead of getting and Advance line of credit or a holiday loan against your refund – how about just getting your own money? When a tax prep company helps you borrow against your refund, don’t they have an interest in making sure you continue to pay in to much tax so they can offer you the same program year after year?
By adjusting your income tax withholding, you can change amount the IRS charges you each and every payday. If you are in line for a refund this year, like 100 million other Americans, you’ve probably already paid in enough to cover all the tax you owe on what you made this year. You can change your withholding now for the remainder of this year and get more of YOUR MONEY in the remaining paychecks this year.
And, if you’re likely to get a refund next year, you can change your withholding the first of the year to get more of YOUR MONEY in each and every paycheck all of next year.
A tax professional told me his job was to help me understand how to keep more of my hard earned money and pay the lowest amount of tax legally. The tax professional’s job is to help me get more of MY MONEY in each paycheck during the year and still not owe at the end of the year. The tax professional didn’t want me to be like over 100 million Americans that got $2,800 back when they filed their tax return. I can get that money throughout the year and not be overcharged $100 a payday by the IRS.
And the tax professional doesn’t charge a large fee or interest when they show me how to get MY OWN MONEY.
That’s a game I’ll gladly play.
Jeff Randall is a Principal Tax Advisor for Tax Break and a coach for Faith-based Financial Fitness. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.