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Now that tax day has passed, chances are you’re either waiting patiently for your 2011 tax refund to arrive, it’s already been spent, or you just wrote the U.S. Treasury a check and are in budget-cutting mode.
It’s difficult to calculate exactly how much you’ll owe in taxes unless your income and family situation are identical from year to year. But going more than a few hundred dollars above or below your final tax bill is not a good idea: A big refund means you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan, while significantly underpaying means you may have to pay costly penalties and interest on the amount.
Your goal should be to receive little or no tax refund. Better to use that money throughout the year to pay down credit card balances or other debt, build emergency savings, beef up your retirement plan contributions or invest it where you can earn interest or dividends.
Unless you’re self-employed, retired or had unexpected sources of income, the driving factor for how much tax you owe or have refunded is probably your W-4 form. That’s one of the many forms you filled out your first day on the job and probably never thought about again.
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