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Beyond filing: Tax time offers great opportunity to set financial goals


By Mary Jo Katras, Extension program leader in family resiliency

It’s that time of year again to think about filing taxes — this year for 2017 taxes. More than filing, though, tax time offers an opportunity for working individuals and families to get ahead.

Highway sign that reads tax time, just ahead with three arrows pointing up.

The prospect of receiving a tax refund is a good incentive for all of us to think about our financial situation and set financial goals. Those might include paying off existing debt or setting some money aside for an emergency fund.

Following are five tips to help make the most of the tax season:

  1. Save hundreds of dollars by filing for free. Minnesota has more than 290 free tax preparation sites where taxes are prepared by IRS-certified volunteers who will help you get your maximum refund. Individuals or households who made under $66,000 also can file online for free using MyFreeTaxes.
  2. If you use a paid tax preparer, ask questions. Find out about service fees. Make sure the preparer is accessible after you file in case you need to follow up. Be sure to bring all all your documents, including a Social Security card or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), picture identification and income statements to your meeting with a preparer.
  3. You may receive up to $6,318 from the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you worked in 2017 and earned less than $53,930, you could be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  4. Save your receipts from school supplies. If you paid for K-12 school-related expenses such as notebooks, rental of musical instruments, or transportation fees for school-time field trips, save your receipts and bring them with you when you file taxes. 
  5. Filing a tax return is required to get student financial aid. If your spouse and/or your children plan to attend a postsecondary institution, information from tax forms are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Free Taxes 101 training available

The Extension Family Resiliency Team is partnering again this year with Prepare + Prosper and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid to offer free Taxes 101 training this month. Taxes 101 is a series of webinars for individuals who work with low- and moderate-income households and want to help them make the most of the tax season.

The webinars cover:
  • Availability of free tax preparation services.
  • Tips for having a conversation about taxes. 
  • 2017 tax changes. 
  • Who should file taxes. 
  • How to claim dependents. 
  • Basics about tax credits.
  • Importance of taking advantage of tax time to save money.
  • Frequently asked questions. 
The next webinar, “Making the Most of Tax Time and Community Resources,” is set for 10-11 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 25. Family Development staff and educators: Tell your interested clients and partners to register for the webinar.

You also may access recordings of the webinars, including one of the “Tax Basics for the 2017 Tax Season” webinar held Jan. 16. Contact me at mkatras@umn.edu for details.
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