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How to Get the Most Money Back on Your Tax Return


About the author: Lamar Watson, CFP®, is a Fee-Only Financial Advisor in the Washington, D.C. area, that works with clients virtually across the country. Lamar's work with his clients focuses on budgeting, employee benefits, paying down debt, buying their first home, and investing. Lamar is the Founder of Dream Financial Planning, a virtual financial planning firm specifically designed to help young professionals and minorities take control of their finances and fulfill their dreams. Feel free to schedule a complimentary consultation to learn how we use the The DREAM Financial Planning Process ™ to help our clients achieve their goals. 


Between gathering the necessary paperwork and working through complicated scenarios, tax season can be a stressful time. You’ve worked hard throughout the year, and you want to be sure you’re taking the right measures to get the maximum amount back on your return. Achieving this, however, takes diligence and research.

5 Considerations to Make During Tax Season

By taking a look at your whole financial picture, you’ll have a better idea of the actions you can take to minimize your tax obligation and maximize your return. While this can take some time, it’s worth thinking through all of your expenses to increase your potential to receive a sizeable tax return. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of five key considerations to make when aiming to maximize your return.

Consideration #1: Claim Your Retirement Tax Deduction

You can make a contribution to your IRA (up to $6,000 if under 50 and $7,000 if 50 and older) up until the filing deadline to receive a tax deduction.1 If you are covered by a plan at work, you’ll be eligible for either a partial or full deduction depending on whether you’re filing separately, jointly, or if you’re single or the head of the household. If not covered by work, you can claim a full deduction.2

Consideration #2: Claim All Other Possible Deductions

Many expenses can qualify as a deduction, meaning they can be claimed to help minimize the amount of taxable income. Common qualified expenses include charitable contributions and state and local income, sales and property taxes. However, there are a number of other deductions that all taxpayers should remember. This includes anything related to work education, including tuition, books, supplies, transportation, and travel costs.3 If you needed to complete work to maintain a professional certification, for example, anything related to doing so may qualify. Other deductions relating to work include business related travel expenses or anything you spent on job-hunting to land the job you are currently in.

Consideration #3: Make Sure to Claim All Dependents

A dependent is not limited to children, as it could be a relative who lives in your home as a member of your household. For example, a relative who is not physically or mentally able to care for themselves. If the individual has an income of less than $4,200 and is not a dependent on another individual’s return, they may qualify as your dependent.4 Additionally, the person must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. alien or U.S. national.

As of the Tax Cuts and Job Act changes in 2017, personal exemption deductions were suspended from 2018 until 2025. However, until then, you can still receive tax credits for children and dependents.5 You may receive up to $500 in tax credits for a qualifying dependent who is not a child of yours. However, this credit may be eliminated or reduced if your adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 when filing alone or $400,000 when filing jointly.5

Consideration #4: Consider Itemizing Deduction if You’re Able

If the sum of your allowable deductions is higher than the standard amount, it’s recommended to itemize your deductions.6 In some cases, you’ll be able to get a bigger refund than taking the standard deduction. If you’re at the cusp of the standard amount, double-checking your receipts and expenses over the year may be an important step in determining whether or not to itemize your deductions. You can itemize deductions on expenses such as medical and dental care, mortgage interest, charitable giving, and theft losses.6 However, in some instances, you’ll be required to opt for one or the other. If you file a joint return with your spouse and you wish to itemize, for example, you and your spouse both must then itemize your deductions.

Consideration #5: Claim Refundable Tax Credits

Unlike a deduction that minimizes what you owe or a nonrefundable tax credit that only refunds up to what you owe, a refundable tax credit is money returned to you - such that even if you owe $0, you’ll be sent the remaining balance from the IRS. Refundable tax credits come in many forms. For example, credits may be given to those with expenses in a foreign country in order to avoid double taxation.7 You can also receive a credit when contributing to retirement savings, paying adoption fees, or paying higher education expenses.

If you’re dealing with a complex tax scenario, you can always lean on the assistance of a CPA. Filing for your taxes can feel like a daunting task, but taking the extra time and effort to make sure you’re taking full advantage of your tax return can pay off.

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  1. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/retirement-topics-ira-contribution-limits
  2. https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/plan-participant-employee/2020-ira-contribution-and-deduction-limits-effect-of-modified-agi-on-deductible-contributions-if-you-are-covered-by-a-retirement-plan-at-work
  3. https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc513
  4. https://www.irs.gov/publications/p503#en_US_2019_publink1000203270
  5. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5307.pdf
  6. https://apps.irs.gov/app/vita/content/globalmedia/4491_itemized_deductions.pdf
  7. https://www.irs.gov/individuals/international-taxpayers/foreign-tax-credit

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