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Why It’s More Important Than Ever to File Your Taxes Early This Year

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You may have April 17 marked on your calendar, but this year consider setting a new target date as Tax Day: Jan. 29.

The IRS will begin taking returns that day.

Tax professionals say it’s a mistake to wait to file until the April deadline — even though Americans have two more days than usual this year — because of concerns including the prevalence of tax return fraud in the wake of the Equifax data breach.

“Tax ID theft is a huge problem,” said Steve Weisman, a law professor at Bentley University and expert on scams.

The good news is filing taxes can be easier and more automated than ever before. More than 127 million people filed their taxes electronically during last tax season, choosing to send the information in an instant, rather than stand in line at the post office.

In total, the IRS expects about 155 million individual tax returns to be filed in 2018.

Here are five reasons to file as soon as possible.

1. Protect your refund from scammers.

The average refund was $2,782, up $32 from the year before, according to the IRS. The majority of the 108 million people who qualified for a tax refund in 2017 — an estimated 80 percent — opted to have that money directly deposited into a bank account.

When someone files a fraudulent return with your Social Security number, you’ll get your refund eventually, but it may take months. You can avoid that headache by filing first.

“The one thing that will work and keep you from being victimized is filing early,” Weisman said. “File early and use a secure Wi-Fi.”

Since 2015, the IRS has been punching back hard against refund fraud, including identity theft. The IRS flagged 4.8 million suspicious returns that year and over the year stopped $8 billion in false returns filed with stolen identities.

In 2016, the IRS stopped 883,000 confirmed identity theft returns, while financial firms caught another 124,000 cases.

In the first eight months of 2017, the IRS stopped 443,000 confirmed identity theft returns, a 30-percent decline from same time last year. Still, nearly 700,000 people had their identity stolen for tax filing in 2015 and 376,000 in 2016.

2. Thwart would-be fraudsters.

Keeping your own money safe is vital, but filing early can make fraud more difficult for crooks, which benefits all taxpayers.

“We know a lot about these criminals,” Weisman said. “[….] Gangs are getting into fraud. They work out of hotel rooms where they use Social Security numbers that they sometimes steal, sometimes buy. The government loses billions of dollars a year.”

Cybercriminals are stockpiling the names and Social Security numbers they have collected, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a statement.

“We know that cybercriminals are planning for the 2018 tax season just as we are,” he says in a statement. “They try to leverage that data to gather even more personal information.”

3. You probably don’t have to deal with the new law yet.

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A survey by Liberty Tax finds that 78 percent of 1,000 people polled were at least a little concerned about how the new tax law would affect the taxes they owe in April. Perhaps their worries may lead them to procrastinate filing their taxes.

But the vast majority of tax reform changes won’t apply to the returns filed for 2017, meaning the 50 percent of people who told Liberty they are concerned that the new law means they’ll owe more in April 2018 are worrying unnecessarily.

4. Know earlier what you may owe.

While it may seem easier to ignore bad news, ignorance doesn’t make reality disappear.

The IRS estimated 13 million people filed extensions last year, but that’s just an extension to file the paperwork. You must make an estimated payment of what you owe by April 17, and any late payments are subject to interest charges.

“If you are going to owe money, it’s better to know that sooner, rather than later,” said Melissa Labant, director of tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants. “Surprises aren’t good.”

5. Avoid making bad decisions for next tax year.

Though tax reform rules won’t impact you this year, nearly one-third of 2018 will be gone before the tax deadline on April 17.

“Make an appointment (with an accountant) as early as you can. Particularly this year, there are significant changes. A lot of the decisions that you make during this year will affect your return next year and the next,” said Labant.

Diligent record-keepers who have itemized their spending for years may find that that approach isn’t useful under the new tax rule. People who pay high state and local taxes may not be able to count all those payments as deductions. And small business owners may be eligible to deduct a portion of their income.

Each situation is different, Labant says.

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Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Investing Regrets Among U.S. Investors

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As the coronavirus pandemic took a hold of the global economy in early 2020, investors everywhere panicked and sent the stock market plummeting to some of its worst days in recent history. Now that some of the immediate panic has subsided, many American investors are reflecting on recent investment moves that they now regret.

In a new MagnifyMoney survey, we found that many Americans regret their previous investing decisions in light of the COVID-19 crisis. However, many investors are also hopeful for the market’s future, which could make this a perfect time to plan your own future investing moves.

Key findings

  • More than half of investors regret past investing decisions brought to light by the COVID-19 crisis.
    • Younger generations, who are arguably less experienced investors, have more regrets than older investors. A whopping 92% of Gen Z investors admitted to an investing regret in some form or another.
    • Still, 79% of Gen X had regrets, compared to much lower numbers from baby boomers (33%) and the silent generation (24%).
  • About one-third of investors have full confidence that their investments will rebound by the end of 2020, but some have more hope than others.
    • Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats and Independents to be very confident that their investments will recover by the end of the year.
    • Meanwhile, baby boomers and the silent generation are much less confident in their investments’ recovery than younger investors.
  • Consumers with investment accounts estimate their stock market losses are about $24,400 on average since the coronavirus outbreak slammed the United States in March.
    • Baby boomers and the silent generation lost the most, at roughly $56,000 and $63,300, respectively. Unfortunately, these are the generations likely relying heavily on their investments in retirement.
    • Women estimated they lost about $32,300 through the stock market, while men estimated their investment losses to be around $18,700.
  • More than one-third of Americans think it will be at least a year before the stock market recovers from the pandemic. 
    • However, it’s worth noting that more than 1 in 5 (22%) respondents believe the market will recover in just two to five months.
  • As the stock market shows signs of growth despite the bleak financial picture of many Americans, more than half of respondents agreed that the stock market does not completely depict the financial picture of the average U.S. consumer. 
    • Republicans and those who have investment accounts (including a retirement savings account) are more likely to believe the market mirrors the average consumer (around 35% in each group), compared to Democrats (24%) and those without investment accounts (13%).

The most common investing regrets amid coronavirus pandemic

Among our respondents, the top investing regret was a lack of portfolio diversification, a regret cited by 23% of respondents. Gen X respondents regretted this mistake the most at about 29%, with millennials not far behind at 27%. At 30%, men also cited this regret more than the 13% of women who admitted to making this error.

The second most common investment regret cited (19%) was taking on risky investments. Nearly one-third of Gen Z investors got burned by a risky investment. And while baby boomers and the silent generation were less likely to make this mistake, a quarter of Gen X confessed regretting this potentially costly move.

Some examples of high-risk investments can include initial public offerings (IPOs), structured products and venture capital trusts. You also may take on considerable risk if you’re trying to time the market for maximum returns, which many experts caution against.

The third common investment regret among respondents (13%) was keeping all of their savings in the stock market. Gen Z investors were the most guilty of this mistake, with 27% regretting keeping all of their savings in investments, followed by 15% of millennials, 13% of Gen X, 7% of baby boomers and a mere 2% of the silent generation.

How to avoid investing regrets

Luckily, these investing regrets are easily avoidable. Even if you found yourself regretting your pandemic-induced investment moves, there’s still time to recover.

Diversify your portfolio

For starters, it’s important to keep your assets diversified, or spread among different investments and across industries, whether you’re a beginner or an investing veteran. That way, when one part of the market takes a tumble, the other parts of your portfolio aren’t hit as badly, or at all. Essentially, by avoiding putting all of your eggs in one basket, your investments can be better protected in a downturn.

Cushion your risky investments

Keeping your portfolio well-balanced and diversified can also help mitigate risky investments that you might have taken on. It also helps to invest your money incrementally rather than in lump sums. That way, you’ll invest in both down and up times, balancing out your investment gains rather than going all in now and regretting your risk-taking later.

Acting reactively to the market is also a risk of its own. If you sell your assets just because everyone else is panicking, prices are driven down and you end up losing money because you’re making less on the sale than what you paid when you bought the asset. Instead, ride it out and keep your money invested. The markets will recover, and your assets’ valuation will go back up, too.

Invest toward long-term gains

Due to its nature, investing is a risky business. There’s the chance of losses and there is no guaranteed payout amount waiting for you. Because of these factors, it’s generally a bad idea to place all your savings bets on your investments. If you need cash in a downturn, you’ll be selling at a loss to withdraw from your investment accounts. Even further, selling off assets and turning them into cash takes time, making this a much less convenient method of withdrawing money than, say, heading to the ATM.

Instead, you should keep your investments geared toward the future, establishing more long-term goals for your investment accounts. This is why retirement accounts are often investment-based — it gives your investments time to accumulate, but also to ride out the many fluctuations of the market.

For your more immediate cash needs, keep money in a high-yield savings account. This allows for easier withdrawals and transfers, and ensures your money still grows. You can also open an interest-bearing checking account to make sure your money is growing no matter what account it’s in.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,008 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The sample population included 1,183 investors and 866 non-investors. We defined the generations in 2020 as follows:

  • Gen Z is defined as ages 18 to 22
  • Millennials as ages 23 to 38
  • Gen X as ages 39 to 53
  • Baby boomers as ages 54 to 73
  • Silent generation as ages 74 and over

The survey was fielded from April 28 to May 1, 2020.

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Study: The Best U.S. Cities for Working from Home

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to change life across the nation, many workers have shifted to remote work to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Luckily, working from home has never been easier. Thanks to advances in technology, many professionals have been able to continue plowing through their to-do lists from the comfort of their couch.

However, some cities are better for remote work than others. Cities that are more appealing to telecommuters have higher earning power for the remote workers who live there and more remote work opportunities. Additionally, cities with longer commute times also make it more appealing for residents to choose to work from home.

To determine the best cities for working from home, MagnifyMoney combed through the Census Bureau’s 2018 1-Year American Community Survey (conducted before the coronavirus pandemic began). We examined the 100 largest U.S. cities by the number of workers, classifying them by metrics related to how many people work from home, their earning power and their cost of living.

Key findings

  • Gilbert, Ariz. is rated the best place to work from home, due to a sharp rise in the number of people working from home, which indicates more remote work opportunities, as well as the fact that remote workers there make $1.32 for every dollar earned by the average worker.
  • The second best place to work from home is Atlanta, thanks to factors like a rise in people working from home from 2017 to 2018 and good pay for remote workers. Additionally, local housing costs in Atlanta were equal to just 27% of earnings for the average person who works from home.
  • Aurora, Colo. comes in third, with residents who work remotely skipping out on the 30-minute average daily commute there.
  • The worst city to work from home was Toledo, Ohio, which had a low and stagnant number of people working from home, indicating few remote work opportunities. Those who do work from home in Toledo generally earned less in comparison to average earnings.
  • The second worst city to work from home was El Paso, Texas, followed by Greensboro, N.C.
  • On average, across the 100 cities analyzed, working from home tended to pay better than not working from home.
  • Overall, the number of people working from home is fairly flat, suggesting that the so-called “telecommuting revolution” had yet to come to fruition before COVID-19.
  • Long commutes did not necessarily translate to more people working from home. While New York and New Jersey had the longest average commutes, they did not see much of an increase in the number of people working from home.

Best cities for working from home

Topping our study’s ranking of the best cities to work from home is Gilbert, Ariz. Gilbert, a suburb located southeast of Phoenix, measures just over 72 square miles and has a population of more than 230,000.

Our study found that the average person working from home in Gilbert makes $1.32 for every dollar the average person makes, earning it a tie for the 20th spot regarding that metric. Gilbert also ranked high for two metrics measuring the city’s overall work-from-home climate. It ranked fourth for its share of remote workers, with 4.90% of residents working from home, and sixth for the percent change in the number of people working from home from 2017 to 2018, a 1.20% year-over-year increase. Additionally, the average commute time of a typical worker in Gilbert is 28 minutes, earning Gilbert the 27th spot for that metric as telecommuters are saving nearly half an hour each way.

All of these metrics contributed to Gilbert’s overall top ranking, making it a great option for telecommuters looking for a balanced lifestyle of good pay, a remote work-friendly culture and a decent chunk of time saved from commuting.

Atlanta snags the spot for the second best city to work from home, thanks to the high earning power of remote workers and a culture friendly to telecommuting. Atlanta has a high work-from-home rate, with 4.50% of people working from home, earning it a sixth-place ranking for that metric. Remote workers in Atlanta make $1.13 for every dollar the average worker pulls in, and housing costs accounted for just 27% of a remote worker’s earnings, landing it the 22nd spot for that metric.

Rounding out the top three for our study on the best cities to work from home is Aurora, Colo. Aurora’s rankings were boosted by the fact that remote workers in Aurora make $1.41 for every dollar that the average person makes — earning the city the 11th spot for that metric. The city also boasts 3.50% of people working from home, which landed it in 19th spot for that metric. Additionally, workers in Aurora had an average commute time of 30 minutes, which means, conversely, remote workers get to skip out on a half hour long-commute, earning the city the 18th spot for the commute time metric.

Overall, the best state to work remotely seems to be Arizona — three cities, all Phoenix suburbs, cracked our study’s top 10 best cities to work from home ranking: Gilbert (first), Chandler (seventh) and Scottsdale (tenth). Another state with a strong presence in our study’s top 10 best cities to work from home is Colorado, with Aurora ranking second and Denver ranking sixth.

Worst cities for working from home

The U.S. city falling to the bottom of our study’s ranking — making it the worst city to work from home — is Toledo, Ohio. Located in the northwest region of Ohio, Toledo has a population of around 276,000.

Remote workers in Toledo pulled in far less than the average worker, earning just $0.58 for every $1 earned by an average worker and resulting in the city ranking 99th for that metric. Additionally, remote workers in Toledo spent an average of 51% of their earnings on housing, underscoring remote workers’ overall low earning power. Toledo also had a staggeringly low percentage of residents working remotely — 0.90% — which indicates the poor overall culture of remote work and opportunity in the city.

The second worst city to work from home, according to our study, is El Paso, Texas. Remote workers in El Paso also had dismal earning power, with people who work from home making just $0.81 for every dollar earned by the average worker, and housing costs accounting for 45% of remote workers’ earnings. Like Toledo, El Paso also had a relatively low percentage of remote workers overall, with 1.60% of people working from home, placing the city 87th for that metric.

Meanwhile, our study found that Greensboro, N.C., is the third worst city to work from home. Greensboro ranked last for the metric measuring the growth in the number of people working from home, with 1.90% fewer people working remotely in 2018 compared to 2017, indicating a possible decline in remote work opportunity there. Remote workers also weren’t saving a particularly significant amount of time by telecommuting, with the average commute time for residents in Greensboro being just 21 minutes.

Overall, our study found that there are bad cities for working from home nationwide, from the Northeast all the way to the West Coast.

Advantages and disadvantages of working from home

As is the case with clocking your 9-to-5 hours in a cubicle, many of us have discovered during the pandemic that there are both advantages and disadvantages to working from the comfort of your couch.

Advantages of working from home

  • Potentially higher pay: Our survey found that in many cities, remote workers raked in more money than non-remote workers. For example, in Norfolk, Va., the average remote worker made $1.68 for every dollar earned by the average worker. One reason for this could be that, according to the BLS, the more popular occupations for remote work include jobs in management, business and finance, all of which tend to be higher-paying.
  • Money saved on transportation: The cost of commuting is not something to overlook. Depending on the state in which you live, you could spend between $2,000 to $5,000 a year on commuting costs. Working from home enables you to save thousands of dollars a year.
  • Money saved on childcare: One of the biggest incentives for working from home is the flexibility it allows — especially for parents with kids to care for. For working parents, the cost of childcare can add up to hundreds of dollars a week. If a parent works from home, they might be able to avoid paying for a daycare service or nanny.

Learn how you can maximize your savings with the best online savings account offers. 

Disadvantages of working from home

  • Strain on relationships with colleagues: Working from home could have a negative effect on your relationships with your colleagues. At least one study has found that remote workers were more likely to report that their co-workers treat them poorly and exclude them.
  • Lack of work-life balance: When your home doubles as your workspace, it can be difficult to unplug. Indeed, one survey from Remote.co found that unplugging after work hours is the biggest challenge among telecommuters. Achieving a healthy work-life balance when you work from home can certainly be a challenging obstacle to overcome.

Methodology

For our study, we looked at data from the 2018 Census Bureau’s 1-Year American Community Survey. Metrics analyzed included:

  • The percentage of people who work from home.
  • Earnings for people working from home relative to average earnings of local workers.
  • The percentage point change in the share of workers working from home from 2017 to 2018.
  • The percentage point change in earnings for people who work from home from 2017 to 2018.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income for people working from home.
  • Average commute time.

To create the final rankings, we ranked each city in each metric. Using these rankings, we created a final index based on each city’s average ranking. The city with the best average ranking received the highest score, while the city with the lowest average ranking received the lowest score. The cities were then indexed based on the best possible score.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.