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Big tax refund? Consider adjusting withholding

/ Source: The Associated Press

Your taxes are done and you're excited about getting a $3,000 refund. It's hard to resist thinking about a big-screen television, a mall shopping spree or a vacation.

Those temptations are one reason why it's a good idea to consider changing your withholding so that you don't get such a big refund.

"When it comes in one big lump sum people view it as a bonus and they spend it on something fun or a vacation, things that may be out of the norm," said Eleanor Blayney, a consumer advocate for the CFP Board of Standards Inc., which provides the professional certification for financial planners. Taxpayers are more likely to spend a big check on purchases they may not have made had they received the money in smaller amounts throughout the year.

If you're disciplined and you put the refund in the bank or pay down a credit card or other debt, that's good. However, you still have lost the use of, and potential to earn interest on, that money all year long.

Of the 82 million tax returns the IRS had received by March 25, nearly 70 million were due refunds. The average refund is just under $3,000.

If you consistently get a sizeable refund, you can hold on to more of your money by adjusting the withholding tax allowance on a W-4 form. If you've been at the same job for a while, you've probably haven't thought about what you put on the W-4 when you started. You had to claim a number of exemptions — perhaps 0, 1 or 2. The more exemptions, the less money is withheld from your paycheck. So, you want to be careful not to take too many exemptions, which could cause you to end up owing money at the end of the year. The ideal situation is to claim the number of exemptions to break even or as close as you can get.

The IRS recommends adjusting withholding if you received a large refund or you have money due that is more than you can comfortably pay.

When is a refund too large? It's a question only you can answer. Consider, however, that the average refund is $3,000 and the average personal income is just over $40,000. That means the average worker is loaning out 7.5 percent of his or her pay to the government, interest free. If you think you can use that $250 a month in your paycheck rather than waiting for a tax refund, consider changing withholding.

Other reasons to review your withholding are life changes that affect tax liability such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child or adoption, purchase or sale of a home, retirement, or bankruptcy.

Calculators are available to help you figure out how much you should be withholding.

You'll need a pay stub and your most recent income tax return to help answer some of the questions.

An easy calculator to use is located at

It's handy because it helps you calculate the number of withholding allowances and if you want, puts them into a new W-4 form that you can print out, sign and hand in to your employer.