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Every year I get a refund and the tax software asks me if I'd like to apply some of my refund to next year's taxes. Is there some benefit I'm not seeing to this? Because it looks like a bad deal to me.

12 Answers 12

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Aside from the fear that you or a loved one will spend it frivolously, I'm hard pressed to come up with another reason. If you'll owe money in the next tax year, you have the rest of the year to adjust your withholdings and/or make quarterly payments. As both my fellow PFers state, you're better off getting your money back. Better still, use it to pay off a high interest debt.

  • 5
    About the only reason I can come up with is if someone is filing multiple years at once because they didn't file for years and now have a largeish tax bill. – jldugger Jan 1 '12 at 1:06
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    Sure, if there's a refund on one, but money owed on other(s). I'm wondering if there are times the money in your name would hurt you from collecting a welfare benefit, but it wouldn't count if it were a prepaid tax? – JoeTaxpayer Jan 1 '12 at 1:53
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    @JoeTaxpayer great point and may also be relevant if you are filling out the FAFSA. – Sean W. Jan 3 '12 at 18:03
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    Look at Joe's answer--it can be a very sensible thing to do for those of us who have to make estimated payments. (Mostly the self-employed but anyone who gets enough non-paycheck income will end up in that position.) – Loren Pechtel Aug 4 '16 at 23:28
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    @Kevin - yes. Missing. Your actual tax bill isn't affected by how much you paid ahead, with the exception of pay too late and getting hit with penalty. – JoeTaxpayer Jul 5 '17 at 16:33
45

There actually are legitimate reasons, but they don't apply to most people. Here are a few that I know of:

  1. You're self-employed and have to pay quarterly estimated taxes. Rather than wait for the refund when you already have to pay 1/4 of next year's taxes at the same time, you just have the IRS apply to refund forward. (so you're not out the money you owe while waiting for your refund).

  2. You're filing an amended or late return, and so you're already into the next year, and have a similar situation as #1, where your next year's taxes have already come due.

  3. You're planning on declaring bankruptcy, and you're under the Tenth Circuit, those credits might be safe from creditors

For almost any other situation, you're better off taking the money, and using it to pay down debt, or put it somewhere to make interest (although, at the current rates, that might not be very much).

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    Yup, I just did #1. It makes no sense to have the IRS send you a check at the same time you're sending the IRS one. You just give the IRS several weeks of float for no reason. – Loren Pechtel Apr 16 '13 at 5:48
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    Even if you're not self-employed, you may still have to pay quarterly estimated taxes. For example, if you have significant dividend income from a prior inheritance. There are lots of other possibilities. – David Schwartz Jul 6 '17 at 9:16
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If your refunds are subject to seizure because of certain debt arrears, it makes sense to let the IRS hold onto them until next year.

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    5 years later, and a nice answer we've all missed. – JoeTaxpayer Jan 13 '17 at 17:07
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    @JoeTaxpayer : so would this be a bad time to mention that your accepted answer is basically 'don't do it', and we've had a few answers with legitimate reasons to do it? – Joe Jan 13 '17 at 21:54
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    No, it's just like the topless scenes Jamie Lee Curtis did in the movies when she first got started. Decades later, nothing to be proud of, but also nothing to be ashamed of. This was 5 years ago as I noted. I hope my new responses have grown in value over the years. Other than that, I'm sticking with the Topless JLC defense. – JoeTaxpayer Jan 13 '17 at 22:04
8

It is a bad deal. It saves the government from processing your refund as a check or an ACH deposit, and lets them keep your money -- money that they overwithheld! -- interest-free for another year.

Get it back. :)

6

If you expect your taxes to be higher next year, it saves you the trouble of sending estimates or changing the withholding levels. But yes, its basically a free loan you're giving to the government.

5

If you have non-salary income, you might be required to file 1040ES estimated tax for the next year on a quarterly basis. You can instead pay some or all in advance from your previous year's refund.

In theory, you lose the interest you might have made by holding that money for a few months. In practice it might be worth it to avoid needing to send forms and checks every quarter.

For instance if you had a $1000 estimated tax requirement and the alternative was to get 1% taxable savings account interest for six months, you'd make about $3 from holding it for the year. I would choose to just pay in advance.

If you had a very large estimation, or you could pay off a high-rate debt and get a different effective rate of return, the tradeoff may be different.

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    Note that the first estimated tax payment is due the same date (usually April 15th) as the income tax return, so you're really not losing interest. There are also possible penalties for underpaying that estimated tax. – jamesqf Apr 28 '16 at 5:49
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The refund may offset your liability for the next year, especially if you are a Schedule "C" filer. By having your refund applied to the coming year's taxes you are building a 'protection' against a potentially high liability if you were planning to sell a building that was a commercial building and would have Capital Gains. Or you sold stock at a profit that would also put you in the Capital Gain area. You won a large sum in a lottery, the refund could cushion a bit of the tax.

In short, if you think you will have a tax liability in the current year then on the tax return you are filing for the year that just past, it may be to your benefit to apply the refund.

If you owe money from a prior year, the refund will not be sent to you so you will not be able to roll it forward.

One specific example is you did qualify in the prior year for the ACA. If in the year you are currently in- before you file your taxes-- you realize that you will have to pay at the end of the current year, then assigning your refund will pay part or all of the liability.

Keep in mind that the 'tax' imposed due to ACA is only collected from your refunds. If you keep having a liability to pay or have no refunds due to you, the liability is not collected from you.

1

If your refund is so small (like $20 - $25), and it's not worth receiving, it can be put towards next years just to give you a slight edge.

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Not a financially sound decision in my humble opinion. Basically, you are prepaying your taxes and the only reason you want to do that is if you don't have the discipine to save that money for when it is time to pay next year (assuming you will have to).

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i filed a chapter 13 and as part of the settlement with bankruptcy trustee i must give them a copy of my 1040 and any tax refunds. I may use the carryover rule to get around losing money.

  • Please expand upon the last sentence. – RonJohn Jan 29 '18 at 19:22
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sometimes we advise very old or incapacitated people to apply the refund to the next year as check writing from time to time & mailing may be a hassle for them.

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besides simple convenience, the only compelling scenario i can imagine is if you:

  1. file for an extension to file until october 15th for your year 1 tax return
  2. overpay before the april deadline for year 1 tax return
  3. underpay your q1 or q2 estimated tax payment for year 2
  4. apply your refund from your october filing retroactively to your q1 estimated tax payment thereby mitigating your underpayment penalty for q1 or q2.

even this scenario is relatively far-fetched. it's reasonable to overpay in year 1 because you're not sure exactly what your taxes due will be when you file, but it seems unlikely that you would subsequently underpay in year 2. that generally only happens if you have a large amount of income in q1, then try to spread the tax payments over 4 quarters, but then realize a large unexpected income in q2-4. it's a fairly rare scenario, which requires the taxpayer to lose several different calculated risks in a particular sequence.

protected by Chris W. Rea Jan 29 '18 at 18:21

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