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File Early and Optimize Your Tax Returns For the Biggest Refund in 2024

Tax season is here again after the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officially will open its doors to 2023 tax filings. The last day to file, or “Tax Day,” is Monday, April 15, 2024. 

The IRS swung into its peak season with an expanded service team and upgraded technology. To fund the rollout, the agency is drawing upon the $80 billion Congress assigned it last year, of which half is earmarked for optimizing operations to make filing easier for taxpayers. A few short weeks in, it seems to be making a difference. Already the IRS is getting through a far higher number of filings and issuing more returns faster than in previous years. This article will consider some go-to money moves to make at tax time, how to make the most of deductions, and more. 

Returns so Far 

According to IRS data, this year has gotten off to a flying start. 

More people are filing earlier. The IRS has processed 18.95 million tax returns by February 3. That’s a 13.4% increase on the number the tax department received by this time last year. The tax department is getting through them faster, too, having already processed 16.7 million of those returns, nearly 30% more than the previous year. 

Digitalization continues to trend, with the total number of e-filing returns increasing by 9.5% year-on-year. The vast majority of tax returns – 92.4% – are now submitted digitally.

The IRS has also issued almost 8 million tax refunds already (as opposed to only 4.3 million that had been issued by this time last year). However, refunds are generally smaller, with the average refund amount being $1,963, more than $200 less than last year’s. These numbers are in flux, however, and will likely change over the coming weeks as the IRS processes millions more returns before April 18.

Before You File

There are several prudent moves individuals can make before filing. 

First, check the new set of tax brackets for 2023. Even marginal deductions can significantly affect your total tax bill if you fall into a new bracket. For instance, a single filer earning $42,000 in 2022 would have been taxed at a 22%, while this year that same income level will only be 12%.

Before filing, users can create an online IRS account, which enables them to access tax records and make and view payments. Be aware that opening an IRS account does not automatically enable e-filing. Users will still need to register for electronic filing separately. Going online allows easy access to a simple one-stop portal. It also opens the door to the Free File Program for individuals with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) income under $73,000.

Taxpayers can also attend to their IRA accounts (either Traditional or Roth) around this time to reap the tax benefits for their retirement savings. Traditional IRA accounts allow taxpayers to deduct contributions to their taxable income (above-the-line deduction). For those with Roth IRAs, make your contributions to your fund with your post-tax income; qualified distributions are tax-free in retirement.

Above and Below  

When it comes to deductions, there are two broad categories of tax deductions – “above-the-line” and “below-the-line.”

In accounting jargon, this “line” delineates a taxpayer’s AGI (which determines the tax bracket) from their actual taxable income (what remains after additional tax breaks are deducted).   

Contributions to health savings accounts (HSA) are one of the most common above-line deductions, potentially shifting you down a bracket or two. The same is true for company retirement plan contributions.

These are among the top tax-reducing strategies most commonly used by high-income earners (usually those paying above 30% income tax) but can be adopted by all taxpayers to lighten their load. 

There are two options for below-line deductions. Individuals can either claim the standard deduction or list several itemized deductions. The latter makes sense if there are enough deductions that aggregate together to exceed the standard deduction, yet it requires more record-keeping and effort. 

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 altered the deduction calculus for the majority of Americans. The bill almost doubled the standard deduction, bumping it up from $6,500 to $12,000 for single filers and from $13,000 to $24,000 for married joint filers. 

Charitable donations are one of the below-the-line deductions, which can further lower tax owed. What’s more, donors can “stack” their contributions into grouped clumps in the same taxable year so their itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction threshold. There is an additional, less-calculable advantage to charity deductions. Namely that by donating to charity, donors can choose what specific cause their hard-earned money will go towards, whereas they have no say over how the government spends their tax dollars.  

The ideal strategy will depend on an individual filer’s circumstances. But it pays to plan – the more one can save during the filing process, the more can be deposited to tax-optimized retirement accounts

Whether you are self-filing or working through a paid tax preparer, filing electronically or on paper, there is always more benefit to planning ahead for tax season. By organizing your financial papers, exploring various deductions and credits, and getting across changes to the tax code, you are better positioned to reduce your tax burden and maximize your refund.

Josh Dudick

Josh is a financial expert with over 15 years of experience on Wall Street as a senior market strategist and trader. His career has spanned from working on the New York Stock Exchange floor to investment management and portfolio trading at Citibank, Chicago Trading Company, and Flow Traders.

Josh graduated from Cornell University with a degree from the Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at the SC Johnson College of Business. He has held multiple professional licenses during his career, including FINRA Series 3, 7, 24, 55, Nasdaq OMX, Xetra & Eurex (German), and SIX (Swiss) trading licenses. Josh served as a senior trader and strategist, business partner, and head of futures in his former roles on Wall Street.

Josh's work and authoritative advice have appeared in major publications like Nasdaq, Forbes, The Sun, Yahoo! Finance, CBS News, Fortune, The Street, MSN Money, and Go Banking Rates. Josh currently holds areas of expertise in investing, wealth management, capital markets, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and personal finance.

Josh currently runs a wealth management business and investment firm. Additionally, he is the founder and CEO of Top Dollar, where he teaches others how to build 6-figure passive income with smart money strategies that he uses professionally.