I remember about eight years ago when I first started working my first professional job and was actually looking forward to tax season. Up until then from what I had witnessed with my parents and other relatives, tax season to adults was like what Christmas is to a toddler. That was the “real” most wonderful time of the year. I didn’t understand much about taxes, but quickly learned that because I didn’t have kids, was no longer in school, not paying student loans, barely had any deductions and was a tax bracket above broke that I qualified for a little something in return but definitely would not be doing the dougie to “This Is How We Do It” like the dude in the Jackson Hewitt commercial.
I drove home in tears crying to my friend on the phone, “What am I doing wrong?” But once I started to understand a little more about taxes, I learned I wasn’t really doing anything wrong. When I figured out tax season wasn’t meant for the single working woman, I was a lot less emotional during tax time. Now admittedly I’m a still a little bitter, but I am better prepared and I realize that without many deductibles I’ll end up owing every tax season because of my writing hustle, and that’s OK now that I know what to expect. But for all of you who are lucky enough to come into a little extra sometime soon, I need to you to spend responsibly for all of us who have to actually budget for big items and can’t lose our mind for 3 months out the year. Here are 12 ways I’m sure some people will waste their tax returns this year:
1. Put first and last month’s down on any type of residence although they’re currently unemployed.
I know a few people who do this time and time again every tax season. Tax season has a way of making people believe they are ballin’ like Diddy when that money hits their account, only for them to end up in tears like Terell Owens when they look at their negative balance a few weeks later.
We all do it: When we get a windfall of money we start imagining all of the great things we’re going to do with it: I’m going to re-do my basement, and take a trip to Jamaica this summer and pay off my student loans. But the truth is in the grand scheme of things, a few thousand dollars is only going to get you so far and you won’t be able to do everything.
If this is the only income you have, then it definitely will come to an end, and probably faster than you think. Don’t invest into anything you can’t sustain long after your days at H&R Block.
2. Making it rain on a man hoping it will help your love last past cuffing season.
Just this past week I heard of a friend of a friend whom no sooner than her tax return hit her account, she was taking her new man on a shopping spree in Bloomingdales. It was like, “Screw the fact that Jr. needs braces. My bae needs a Gucci belt.” If you started dating him around Christmas and he already has you buying him summer gear, he’s not your boyfriend, he’s a leech and the first day the temperature goes above 60 degrees he will be ghost. You worked hard for that money all year. Why spend it on a man who can’t commit to you past cuffing season?
3. Putting a down payment on anything you weren’t already saving for.
Stacy Johnson of Money Talks News advises that you should never use your taxes to create more debt (For example, buying a brand new car that will only depreciate in value). When it comes to big ticket items that you will have to make payments on, don’t even consider your tax return. Plan your payments according to what you are pulling in from your regular 9-5, because that is a realistic picture of what your finances will look like all year long. If you need a car, consider buying something used that you can pay for completely at one time.
4. Buying Polo or Virgin Remy anything before paying Rent-A-Center, Walmart, Sprint and whatever else is dragging down your credit score.
I am guilty of being mad at my debt like it got here on its own. I’d seriously have thoughts like, “Walmart, you’re bugging being due on the 25th with my car note, so guess what, you’re not getting paid.” I thought I was hurting its feelings, when in fact I’m probably a non m’fin factor when it comes to the Walton family fortune. The only thing I was hurting was my own credit. That type of mentality is the reason Uncle Sam started paying your debt down for you with your own return, because people weren’t responsible enough to say, “You know what? As much as I like these new Jordan Melo M10’s, I really should pay Sallie Mae that money I owe her.”
5. Believing that this is some kind of blessing from the government.
Many people incorrectly believe that an income tax return is some kind of surplus because Uncle Sam believes they’ve been good all year. But in reality all income tax returns are is money you overpaid the government, while they just held onto it to return to you later interest-free. Get it? The average citizen receives $3000 in tax returns. Racks on racks in returns= money you could have been getting all year while you were struggling living check to check. Pay close attention to your pay stubs and how much is getting taken out of each check. If the IRS is making it rain on you every year, it might be because you’re doing something wrong the other 9 months out of the year.
6. Investing into Ralph Lauren’s retirement and not your own.
I’m not saying you can’t treat yourself to something nice, but let’s act like the adults I know we can be this year. When I was 16 I remember getting my first job and every two weeks I would take my little $200 paycheck and blow out the mall in a day. I’d get different colored pairs of Timberlands, CD’s of artists who only had one good song on the radio and a crazy amount of takeout food.
Responsible grownups don’t behave this way. If your life was fine before you copped those Beats by Dre headphones in six different colors, why is your tax money convincing you that you need them now? Think of this way: After tax season Dr. Dre will be 1 billion dollars richer and you’ll be back to being broke.
7. Buying the flashiest, newest phone with no damn data plan.
I don’t even know if this is possible with the way carriers are set up now, but I never understand how people will have the latest IPhone or Galaxy and then can’t surf the internet because they’re out of data or are getting their phones cut off because they can’t pay the bill. It’s like what’s the point? What are you doing? Can you even play Candy Crush without a data connection? Oh that’s right, you’re taking selfies you can’t send because like Tommy not having a job **in my Martin voice** you ain’t got no damn data.
8. Rushing to get a tax return anticipation check.
I understand times are hard for some and many of us are still living to check, but your paycheck is one thing, waiting on tax time to pay off necessities like electric bills or car notes is sign that you’re living above your means. Your basically paying more money to get cash instantly on the hope that your refund goes through smoothly and as planned because you need to pay bills NOW. Your tax refund should be something extra not what’s saving you from the repo man, landlord/tenant court or your phone not being able to accept calls.
9. Not paying what you owe up front.
I made this mistake being completely irresponsible as a freelance writer. I knew I should’ve been saving all year to pay my taxes but I just didn’t and Uncle Sam didn’t give a damn when he hit me up with penalties. So just a word to the wise, if you are doing any kind of independent contracting/freelancing work for a legit company, Uncle Sam will find you eventually and get his cut. Just ask Vince Herbert, Flo-rida, Ronald Isley, Keyshia Cole, Wesley Snipes, Lauryn Hill and all the other celebrities with tax liens that I’m missing.
10. Trying to claim anything with brain waves.
Here’s the reason why you’ll get caught claiming everyone’s kids that you really don’t take care of: Because you know better. I used to be a little (I’m lying, a lot) jealous when I would see trifling cousins claiming all kinds of kids on their taxes and getting broke off come tax time. But you know what I realized? Those were the same simple people buying Iphones with no data plan, Polo shirts and Xboxes instead of paying their bills and investing into themselves. Don’t get it twisted. The government is aware of what they’re doing; they know good and well that all those folks bottle popping at tax time will be giving that money right back to the economy by buying ish they don’t need instead of improving their situation for the long-term and living independently.
11. Posting your stacks on social media.
I never understood why people post lump sums of money and other things they value on the internet and then check-in to their locations and alert everyone they’re going out a town. Why don’t you just put your social security number in the caption and make every thief’s life a little easier. Just because you’ve never had a large lump sum of money doesn’t mean you have to act like it. Be conservative about what you’re getting back because bragging only causes people to get crazy creative about things to ask you for loans for.
12. Not fixing major things that are broken in your home.
If you are washing clothes in your sink, using a hanger to flush your toilet or can see your bedroom from your basement when you look up at the ceiling, your first stop after Jackson Hewitt needs to be Home Depot. It never ceases to amaze me how many folks will hit the streets fly as hell and come to sleep on a mattress on the floor with no sheets. Priorities, people.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.