7 secrets to getting more money back on your tax returns.

There are plenty of ways the average American can claim major tax benefits.

As we trudge forward into tax season, here are seven secrets to pulling in more money in tax deductions each year — secrets taken straight from the knowledge bank of those who know it best.

1. Bunch your deductions.

GIF from “Hail, Caesar!”


If you're a salaried employee, and you get paid on a W-2 tax basis, you should pool your itemized deductions as much as possible. Itemized deductions are eligible expenses you can report on your tax returns to lower your taxable income.

The more deductions you take over that 2% adjusted gross income threshold, the lower your income tax bill will be. What does that mean, exactly? Well if you have planned deductible expenses, like medical care, spread out over the next couple years, try to pay for them all this year. That way you can claim them as one lump sum on your Schedule A tax form, and you get more money back.

2. Take your work-from-home deduction.

Image by krzyzanowskim/Flickr.

If you work from home, you can deduct a surprising number of things. One big one is the portion of your house that you use for work. This space must be used exclusively for work, on a regular basis, either as your principal place of business or as a place to meet with patients, clients, or customers. For example, if you have a four-room apartment and use the second bedroom only as an office, you can deduct a quarter of your annual rent plus utility fees. But that’s just the beginning. You can also deduct your cell phone bill, Internet bill, all office supplies, including your computer, shipping costs, advertising costs, membership dues, and business travel — just to name a few.

3. Count your out-of-pocket charitable contributions.

GIF from “Sense and Sensibility."

If you regularly buy pet food for the animals you foster from your local shelter, you can deduct it. If you do a lot of driving for your kid’s charitable after-school program, you can deduct 14 cents for every mile. Charitable donations come in many forms, not just big checks. It may take some time to parse it all out, but it definitely adds up.

4. Put money into retirement ... starting now.

Whenever you contribute to a Roth 401(k) or a Roth IRA account, you’re setting yourself up for success because you don’t have to pay taxes on that amount when you withdraw it. The Roth 401(k) in particular has no income limitations, so if you’re employed full-time by a company that offers 401(k) options, you’re eligible. You can deduct the contribution you make to it from your annual taxable income too (an all-around win). The best part is this growing chunk remains tax-free until you retire, so the more you put in there, the better.

5. Don’t forget about state sales tax!

Image by Philip Taylor/Flickr.

This primarily affects states that don’t impose an income tax at all: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. In these states, you can deduct the sales tax you paid on any large or expensive items you purchased, as long as the tax isn’t over the state’s general sales tax rate. The IRS has a handy calculator to help you total these types of deductions.

6. Outsmart the capital gains tax.

GIF from “Spaceballs.”

Stockholders who have stocks that did well this year and who want to sell them normally have to pay a 20% capital gains tax on them. However, the tax is actually taken on the difference between gains and losses, so if you sell stocks that took a loss along with ones that made a profit — rather than selling them one at a time — you’ll be cancelling out that tax altogether. Oh, and you’ll be simultaneously knocking off the income tax you’d normally have to pay on up to $3,000 of your annual income. Win.

7. Get paid through dividends rather than income.

Own your own business? Here’s a little trick from the one-percenters: you pay less taxes on dividends than you do on salaried money. So if you make less than $400,000 a year and you turn a good portion of your income into dividends (a distribution of your company's earnings to its shareholders), you’ll only have to pay a 15% income tax on it. However, you’ll still need to designate a reasonable amount of your income to your salary; otherwise, you’ll get some negative attention from the IRS.

With these pro tips, you're off to a good start.

So share these tips with your family and friends and then enjoy an extra coffee with that extra cash in your wallet. Get 'em in soon – tax season will be over before you know it!

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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