BY RAY MARTIN, MONEYWATCH
For millions of Americans, tax refund time is drawing near, and the checks will be averaging about $3,200.
I've always said setting yourself up to always get a tax refund isn't good cash flow planning. You overpay your taxes all year, then wait to file a bunch of complicated forms to prove you've overpaid your taxes. After sending the forms to the IRS to ask for your money ... you wait some more.
Doesn't sound like a smart thing to do, right?
But of course, lots of people like getting a tax refund because it's their way of forcing themselves to save money during the previous year. And others, despite their best efforts to balance what they've paid in taxes with what they'll owe, get a refund because of changes in their financial situation during the year. And some get a refund because they engaged in some good year-end tax planning.
So, if you're one of the over 40 million Americans who'll get a refund this year, here's how to get that money as quickly as possible.
Step 1: Prepare you tax return online
About half of all individuals chose to do their own preparing and filing of their tax returns. While many online tax prep services are available, the most widely used, reviewed and recommended are Intuit's TurboTax or the suite of online services offered by H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt. If you've been using one of their programs, there's little reason to switch.
One plus in an online service from either H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt is that if you start out using their online service and then find that you need professional help, you can walk into any of their tax-prep centers, where they'll review, prepare and file your return.
Step 2: E-file your tax return
If you use tax-prep software, the e-filing process is straightforward. It allows you to electronically "sign" your return. The benefits of e-filing your tax return include getting an electronic acknowledgement from the IRS that your return has been received and getting a faster tax refund.
Step 3: Direct deposit your tax refund
Direct deposit has become the most popular way to receive a refund. Last year over 85 percent of them were directly deposited into taxpayers' accounts. If you use a tax preparer, make sure to let them know you want your refund directly deposited, but most tax pros will ask.
You can even choose to have the refund split up among as many as three different accounts at U.S. financial institutions. Use Form 8888, Allocation of Refund, making sure to provide the correct bank account and routing numbers.
Note that if you try to directly deposit a refund from a jointly filed return into an individually owned account, some institutions will reject that deposit, which will delay your refund. Check with your bank to ensure it'll accept the direct deposit in this case.
How much can e-filing and direct deposit speed up your tax refund? Here's the breakdown depending on how you choose to file your return and receive your check.
That's a clear-cut case for e-filing and direct deposit.