Pay Yourself First: Fund Your IRA with Your Tax Refund

While most of us don’t intend to short change our retirement savings, competing priorities and unexpected expenditures can often get in the way of consistent retirement saving. An easy way to help fund your IRA is to have your tax refund deposited directly into your IRA. Because this represents money you’ve already paid out, it won’t be missed when you redirect those dollars. And, if the refund dollars go directly to an IRA, you can avoid the temptation to splurge and spend that money on something else if it winds up in your checking account.

Many financial planners advise taxpayers to balance their paycheck withholdings so they break even – meaning they don’t overpay and then receive a refund at tax time. Using this strategy, you can make money that might be paid in taxes work for you throughout the year and avoid giving the government an interest-free loan. However, if you have trouble saving, a tax refund can be an effective form of forced savings.

Directing your tax refund to your IRA is easy and automatic. If you want your refund to go to just one account, you simply request a direct deposit of your refund on your tax return at the time of filing. If you want the refund to go to multiple accounts (e.g., IRA, checking, savings) you will need to complete IRS Tax Form 8888 when filing your taxes. Completing Form 8888 authorizes the IRS to transfer your tax refund to any number of IRAs or other savings or checking accounts via direct deposit.

While you’ll need to complete Form 8888 during tax preparation time, and with the advice of your tax advisor, here are some tips to help you:

1. If the deposit is into your IRA, check the “Savings” box under Lines 1–3 on Form 8888.

2. You must have an IRA already established at a financial institution in order to have your refund directed to this account.

3. You need to follow up with the financial institution that holds your IRA and specify which tax year your payment is for. Many providers will assume the payment is for the current calendar year unless you specify otherwise.

4. If you want your deposit to be credited as a prior year IRA contribution, you must verify that the deposit was actually made by the tax filing deadline for that particular year – generally, April 15.

Keep in mind that even if you already contribute to your retirement savings through a 401(k) or other employer sponsored plan at work, you are still eligible to contribute to an IRA to supplement those savings.

With corporate pension plans on the decline and Social Security making up a smaller share of most Americans’ retirement income, it’s important to take charge of your own retirement savings. Having all or a portion of your tax refund directed into an IRA is an easy way to help save for retirement. A Financial Advisor can help evaluate where you are on the path toward saving for retirement to help ensure you can live out your unique vision.

Based in Spring, Walter Hopkins is a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors. He can be reached at 281-257-7100.