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How Soon Can I Get My Tax Refund? 5 Things to Know

(TNS)—Got your 2017 tax return filed yet?

OK, you still have some time. But here’s a reminder that the tax season just kicked off Jan. 29, as the Internal Revenue Service began accepting returns.

The deadline this year is April 17.

Many tax software companies and tax professionals began accepting returns a few weeks ago and will now submit those returns as the IRS systems open.

Here are five things you need to know early in the tax season:

  1. How soon can I get my tax refund?
    Under the law, the IRS cannot issue refunds before mid-February for returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. The earliest those related refunds could show up in bank accounts or on debit cards could be Feb. 27.

Still, tax experts say if you have the paperwork to file early in the season, don’t wait.

The IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, although some require additional time.

  1. What is the Earned Income Tax Credit?
    Many lower income people still don’t realize they’re missing out on a big bonus check during tax season if they ignore the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The earned income tax credit is designed to help low to moderate working households.

For 2017 tax returns, the maximum adjusted gross income limit for claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit is $48,340 if you’re single and have three or more qualifying children to claim and $53,930 for a married couple filing jointly.

The limits are lower for those with fewer or no children. For those with no children, for example, the income limit drops to $15,010 for single, head of household and surviving spouse filers and $20,600 for married filing jointly.

The corresponding maximum tax credits range from $510 with no qualifying children to $6,318 with three or more qualifying children.

Another EITC tip: Be sure you have all your Forms W-2, W-2G, 1099 MISC, and all other income records, even if not reported on a form, before your file your return. And, you need to report all income you earn from running or owning a business or farm and deduct all allowable expenses.

  1. Where can you find free tax help?
    Tax filers who have incomes below $66,000 are eligible for “Free File” software via www.irs.gov. The IRS estimates that about 70 percent of the nation’s taxpayers are eligible for IRS Free File.
  1. What’s everybody going to do with those tax refunds?
    Many taxpayers, including millennials, are most likely to say they’ll save the money or pay off debts, such as student loans or credit cards, according to a poll by TaxSlayer.

But some acknowledge that they will splurge, too.

Roughly one in eight taxpayers say they’re going to treat themselves to a big gift, like electronics or jewelry. Roughly one in eight say they’re going to use that refund money toward going on vacation or out to dinner, according to the TaxSlayer poll.

  1. Where is your refund?
    The “Where’s My Refund?” tool at the www.irs.gov and the IRS2Go phone app are updated regularly with projected refund dates.

To check your refund status, you need your Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number, your filing status and the exact amount of your expected refund.

©2018 Detroit Free Press
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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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All You Need to Know About Garage Security

According to SafeBee.com, recent reports and social media posts are advising homeowners to use a zip tie to secure their door release mechanisms on the emergency latch present on automatic garage door openers. Although the advice is meant to help reduce burglaries, SafeBee.com says the practice can put homeowners in danger.

Using a zip tie to “lock” this mechanism basically removes this safety feature from the door operator system, putting homeowners and others at risk, as the safety function may not work when needed.

Although reports recommend the addition of the zip tie to avoid garage break-ins, those reports leave out the important safety function that may be disabled by doing so.

To enhance the security of your home while helping to ensure the safe operation of your garage door, SafeBee.com shares these tips from UL and the Door and Access Systems Manufacturer’s Association (DASMA):

  • Never interfere with or defeat the manual emergency release mechanism on your garage door operator.
  • Check with your garage door opener dealer or retailer to see what other safety or security features are available for your particular opener or door model.
  • Consider adding an automatic lock, if available, for your opener.
  • Always lock the entry door between the garage and your house, and any other door or windows that may be in your garage.
  • Consider arming your home or premises with a security system.
  • Do not leave valuables, such as bicycles, tools and equipment, visible from an open garage.
  • Do not leave the garage door transmitter visible in your car, and keep car doors locked if a transmitter is inside the car.
  • For garage doors with windows, use a frosted glass coating, if possible.
  • Finally, if your garage door operator has this feature, enable “vacation mode” when leaving home for an extended period of time, which locks out remote controls from activating the door.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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How Do You Pay Off All That Credit Card Debt?

(TNS)—Like the holiday pounds, credit card debt doesn’t just melt away—especially after the latest binge.

The cold reality is credit card debt hit a record $1.02 trillion in November, according to figures released by the Federal Reserve. And Americans racked up on average $1,054 in debt to treat others—and, frankly, themselves—during the holiday season, according to MagnifyMoney.

About half of consumers surveyed admit it will take more than three months to pay off holiday spending, according to MagnifyMoney. Some may need five months or longer.

Now what? What can you do to juggle all those credit card bills and avoid drowning in a debt trap? Sure, many people aren’t scared yet, as the jobs market is strong. Bankers say most consumers are continuing to pay their bills.

But what happens when the furnace dies? Or you lose your smartphone? What should you do if, maybe, your 2018 goal is to pay off all those credit card bills?

First, imagine what you could do if you had no credit card bills.
Lauren Zangardi Haynes, a fee-only financial adviser who has a blog called WordsonWealth.com, says some of her younger clients are motivated to cut down expenses to pay down debt once they think about their dreams.

Without all the credit card bills, maybe, they could save more money for a down payment on a home, take a big trip or take a risk, like switching careers.

“Now, my debt is holding me back from the life I want to live,” she says.

Many times, young couples start having children and realize they need to set aside money for their children’s college education or retirement.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, wait a second, I need to get some things in order,'” says Zangardi Haynes, who is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

Two strategies exist: The avalanche, or the snowball approach.

Typically, if you want to save the most in interest charges, you’d take a strategy to pay the monthly minimum required on each credit card to avoid fees—and then apply as much money as possible toward the credit card that charges the highest interest rate. Once that card is paid off, you add more money to the next highest-rate card, and then the next, until you pay off all your cards.

Haynes, who lives outside Richmond, Va., calls that approach the avalanche, as the payoff can be huge and fairly swift.

But the snowball approach can be a little more fun, she says. Again, you’d make your minimum monthly payment on each card, but then aim to put most of your money toward the credit card with the smallest balance.

Why? You’d pay off the first credit card more quickly and then move to the next card with a small balance to pay that one off, too.

It’s kind of like a good hit in a snowball fight.

“You get a psychological win that can sometimes be motivating for people,” she says.

Pay attention to the interest rates on your credit cards.
Don’t just toss any notices or mail from your credit card issuer. You might discover that you’re looking at a rate increase on your card. Read your monthly statements. Under the law, your card issuer in many cases must provide you with a written 45-day notice of an increase in a rate or other significant changes. A “significant change” would include an increase in the minimum payment and other changes, including the late payment fee.

What happens if you receive a 45-day notice of a rate increase? You might consider whether you can afford to pay off that balance and close the account before the rate hike becomes effective, according to Sandra Barker, a senior policy analyst for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Or if paying off that balance in full isn’t an option, you could look into transferring the balance to a lower-rate credit card.

Watch out: You do not always get an advance notice of a rate hike. You’re not getting a 45-day heads-up if rates edge higher after a Fed rate hike.

Most credit cards do not have fixed rates, so interest rates would go up quickly on your variable-rate cards after a Fed rate hike. Rate increases because of Fed rate hikes apply to outstanding balances, too, not just future balances.

The Fed has raised rates five times since late 2015—and some expect two or three more Fed rate hikes in 2018. The next bump up in interest rates is expected to take place as soon as the Federal Reserve policy meeting March 21.

And here’s another good tip: You’re not going to get a 45-day notice when an limited introductory rate expires, either. So you need to figure out when that 0 percent rate for 12 months goes up to 15 percent or 20 percent when the deal ends, according to Matt Schutz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com.

And you won’t get a 45-day notice when your active duty in the military ends, Schulz said. Federal law caps credit card interest rates for active-duty service members at 6 percent.

Pay your bills on time.
If you don’t pay credit card bills on time, you’d risk getting slapped with far higher penalty rates for some time, too. Penalty rates can be charged on existing balances if you’re 60 days late or more with a payment.

Remember, credit card issuers are required to re-evaluate your payment history and take steps to restore the original lower rate after six months of on-time payments—if your card issuer raised rates because of a 60-day late payment.

Shop around for a better rate.
“In a perfect world, the best way to avoid paying interest on a credit card is to pay the entire balance off every month,” says Barker at the FDIC. “However, we don’t live in a perfect world, so for those who do carry a balance, balance transfers can save money, assuming the person is diligent about keeping track of when the zero- or low-interest rate period ends.”

But she warns that consumers should be cautious about opening up a number of new credit cards just for the low or no interest rate. Each time a lender looks at the potential cardholder’s credit in order to open a new account, the person’s credit score can be affected. Other lenders may be wary when they see lots of credit applications on a report, as well.

Schulz says several card issuers are still offering limited 0 percent deals, including Citi Diamond Preferred, Bank Americard MasterCard, and Slate from Chase.

No-interest offers can run from 15 months to 21 months, depending on the card. Remember, though, once the intro expires, you’d look at variable rates that could climb to the 14 percent to 24 percent range. Also pay attention to any balance transfer fees that might be charged.

Get a real number.
Add up how much you’re carrying in credit card debt. Total up all the required minimum payments for each month. Just like with a diet, you want to get on the scale and know where you stand.

©2018 Detroit Free Press
Visit Detroit Free Press at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

The post How Do You Pay Off All That Credit Card Debt? appeared first on RISMedia.