Your Tax Day Survival Guide

The collective American deadline called "Tax Day" is Wednesday, April 15th. This time of year is what people in the business like to call a natural “money moment.” Thanks to Uncle Sam, we’re all wading through our personal financial information from the past year, so why not spend a few minutes taking stock? Here are some things to consider during the next break in your Netflix marathon. (Or Prime, for those of us who just might be addicted to Downton Abbey.)

  1. File your taxes for free. If you are an individual who made less than $30,000 or a family who earned less than $53,000 in 2014, Prepare + Prosper will take care of everything for nothing more than a high five. If you earned less than $60,000, you can file online for free here. However you decide(d) to file this year, check out these common credits and raise your tax IQ.
  2. Be clear about your goals. When I met with a Financial Planner for free last year at the Twin Cities Financial Planning Day, I was ready to talk about 401(k) savings versus an IRA. Instead, she asked about my life goals. Yes, retirement savings are important, but so is being debt free, buying a house, or going back to school.
  3. Track your spending and set your budget. We’ve all heard this one before. Setting a realistic budget and sticking to it are key steps for stretching that nonprofit salary. Start by simply tracking your spending for two weeks to see where the money goes. (The Surly Taproom, in my case.) Use this information to set your budget. There are lots of apps to help.
  4. Get that company match. Most employers will match your contributions to the company 401(k) or 403(b) up to a certain percentage. This is free money, folks. If your budget surplus (are you guys still reading after I used that phrase?) is mostly dedicated to student loans and the like, try your darndest to squeak out that percentage so you can start a cushy retirement account. Remember, compound interest is our friend.
  5. Build your emergency savings. If you are lucky enough to qualify for any of the aforementioned tax credits, why not use some of this year’s tax return to build your emergency savings? The gurus suggest having three months worth of expenses squirreled away, but if that seems daunting, start with $1,000.

Already got these five things figured out? Congrats. You've earned at least another four hours binge-watching your favorite new series. 

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