Reduce your withholding to beat tax refund ID thieves


Well, Tax Day is finally here. Approximately 25% of people wait until the last minute or beyond to file their taxes. As I’ve said in the past, if you can’t get it together, file for an extension because the penalty for failure to file is nasty.

If you need more time to pay, the IRS makes that a lot easier than you might imagine. You’ll need to file Form 9465 at if you expect it will take longer than four months to pay what you owe. (Note: This is a .pdf file.)

Meanwhile, some 75% of people file as early as possible because they’re due a refund. The average refund is several thousand dollars, depending who you believe.

So people use it as a budget tool; they get over-withheld at work as a method of forced savings. Then at tax time, you have a windfall and you treat yourself with the money. Or your pay down credit card debt, save for retirement, or do whatever else meets your financial needs at the moment.

But the problem with taking this approach is the explosion of tax identity theft. Crooks know how easy it is to file taxes as if they’re you and get your refund. The IRS still has no effective means yet to shut this crime down. And in addition, the penalties are not strict enough.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz plans to introduce a tax identity theft bill that will make the penalties higher for those who steal returns. Last year, taxpayers lost $6 billion to these criminal rings. Crooks love to do it because right now it’s a slap on the wrist, but her legislation may change that.

In the meantime, what I recommend is that you reduce your withholding at work so the stakes aren’t as high when you file your 2012 return next April. That way if a crook beats you to the punch and files as you next year, you won’t have to wait 12 – 15 months for the IRS to investigate and get you the refund you’re due.

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