Paying taxes is a necessary act in our world, and with good reason. Our governments use taxes to build the infrastructure we use, improve our children’s education, and fund the societal safety nets we all end up needing at least once in our lives, like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and welfare.

There’s a difference between paying your fair share and paying too much because that money could be used to better your situation instead of sitting in a government account. But how do you know whether you’re paying too much and what can you do about it? We’ve got a few tips below.


The easiest way to tell if you’re overpaying: Do you get a refund every year?

Does your yearly tax filing fill you with a sense of excitement because of the refund you’ll receive? Unfortunately, that excitement is a clear sign you’re paying too much in taxes.

Try to see your taxes like a loan you give to the IRS. If you pay too much, then you’ve given them above and beyond your fair share, interest-free. Yes, you get it back by April (if you file on time and there’s not an extension for a global pandemic) of the following year, but you’ve lost the opportunity to make that money work for you by either accruing interest, getting rid of debt, or improving your lifestyle. This is known as “opportunity cost” and removing as much of it as possible is a critical part of having a solid financial plan.

Balancing how much you pay in taxes works both ways. Underpaying taxes amounts to an interest-free loan from the IRS to you that will need to be paid in full by Tax Day on April 15. If you can land into a sweet spot where you owe $0 and are refunded a trivial amount, then you’ve adjusted your withholdings correctly. It’s a tricky situation to get just right, though, so let’s cover a few adjustments you can make.


How to adjust the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck

Taxes in the U.S. are complicated, so don’t feel bad if you’re just now realizing you’ve been overpaying.

If you have an employer, the first step is to figure out which department handles your payroll and taxes. Typically this will be HR, though it can fall on the accounting department, too. You can update your withholdings at any time, though it’s better to adjust it when new life circumstances come up. These include:

  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having a child, either from birth or adoption
  • Changes in income

To adjust withholdings, you’ll submit a new W-4 that includes your updated tax situation. You shouldn’t need to send any additional verification, but check with the payroll department to see what the latest requirements from the IRS look like.


What to do after you’ve adjusted your withholdings

If you’re able to adjust your withholdings, you should see a bigger paycheck after your next pay period. While it can be exciting to have more money coming in, it’s important you use this opportunity to get into a better financial situation. Consider putting that “extra” money toward paying down your debt or putting it into a retirement account. Using that new infusion of cash responsibly will not only help your financial situation now but ensure you have a stable source of income in retirement, too.


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