If you are anticipating a nice refund this year, it may be a good idea to prepare yourself for a possible letdown. Many taxpayers will receive a smaller-than-expected refund and might even owe taxes to be paid by April 15. If this happens to you, here are some of the likely reasons:
- Higher take-home pay. Look at last year's W-2 and see how much was withheld for federal income tax. Now check this year's W-2. If it is lower, you will need a corresponding reduction in your tax obligation to get the same refund as last year. The good news? You've had more of your income available to you throughout the year. The bad news? Paying less tax each pay period can result in a lower refund or tax due at tax filing time.
- Withholding tables are not always accurate. To help employers calculate the tax to withhold from each paycheck, the IRS revised withholding tax tables in February 2018 with a forecast of the impact of new tax legislation. While the IRS did its best to apply the tax law changes to the withholding tables, it did not correctly estimate every individual tax situation. Now, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as many as 30 million taxpayers may not have had adequate withholdings for 2018.
- Lower itemized deductions. If you have similar itemized deductions this year as you did last year, they might not go as far as you think. This is because the state/property tax deduction is limited to $10,000 and many other itemized deductions are no longer available. While standard deductions are now higher, those with unreimbursed employee expenses, or those living in high-tax states could see a negative impact on their tax obligation. These changes coupled with the repeal of the personal exemptions could lead to a surprising change in your tax obligation for 2018 and going forward.
- Your state takes a different path. Depending on the degree to which a state incorporates recent federal tax changes, you could see a big tax surprise on your state tax return. As a result, the nonprofit Tax Foundation is anticipating that many taxpayers will experience an increase in state taxes for 2018.
- Good news for many families with kids. The expansion of the Child Tax Credit will help offset the loss of the personal exemptions and could actually create a nice refund. The credit is now double at up to $2,000 per child and the income limit is raised to include most taxpayers.
With the uncertainty regarding whether you will receive a refund, hold off on major purchases and plans until your tax return is finalized. If possible, create a cash cushion to lessen the financial burden on you and your family. This is especially true if your withholdings are lower than last year.