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Getting a grip on income tax season

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With the beginning of the New Year comes income tax season—that time between late January and April 15 when almost all American households have to file a tax return. It’s not too early to get a grip on your taxes.

Solutions for filing your taxes

Around this time of year, you’ll see lots of advertisements and information about tax preparation and tax filing services. Here are some facts to help you sort through your options.

Get help with your taxes for free

  • If your income is $52,000 or less, you can get free tax preparation assistance at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) location near you.
  • If your income is $58,000 or less and you’re age 60 or older, free tax preparation assistance is available through Tax Counseling for the Elderly. Find a location near you.
  • Ask a friend or search online to see if free tax preparation assistance is offered at other places in your area (for example, at community centers, churches, or clubs).

Do it yourself

Not sure you need to file at all?
Depending on your age, income, and filing status, you might not technically be required to file a return. It might still be a good idea to file, though. You might receive a tax refund, or you might be eligible for tax credits. The IRS has guidance to help you decide whether you need to file.

Take care of your tax refund, so it can take care of you

Ads on TV and radio may be tempting, claiming to get your tax refund money the next day, or even before you file your taxes. But these offers can be expensive. Here are some ways to make the most of your refund.

  • Use direct deposit. If possible, file your return electronically and have your refund direct-deposited into your bank or credit union account. The IRS issues most refunds within 21 days, often less—with no fees or charges. You can even keep track of your refund’s progress online.
  • Avoid tax refund advances. When a company promises a faster refund, they’re not actually getting your money from the IRS faster than you can. Instead, they’re lending you the money, and they’ll charge you for the loan. With direct deposit, you can get your full refund, usually within 21 days.
  • Pay your tax preparer up front. If you decide to use a paid tax preparer, the person may offer to take their fee out of your refund. This may seem convenient, but it can have a high cost. For example, if the fee for tax preparation is $200, they might tack on a $30 charge for the convenience of paying the fee out of your refund in a couple weeks. The $30 advance on a $200 purchase is like a loan with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 260 percent.
  • Save some of your refund. It’s free, easy, and fast to put some of your refund into savings when you file your tax return. Include your savings account information when you file yourself, or bring the information with you when you see a tax preparer. Once you’re done, check out SaveYourRefund —some nonprofits offer added incentives for saving.

Does your organization provide services to taxpayers?

We’re partnering with a number of VITA sites on a “Ready? Set. Save!” campaign. If your organization helps people prepare their taxes, you can download the Ready? Set, Save! materials and use them this tax season:

What we’ve been doing for youth financial capability

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Young people shouldn’t have to repeat financial mistakes made by earlier generations. That’s why we support financial education in K-12 classrooms. This year, we’ve reached some exciting milestones.

To help the public better understand the financial education landscape, we made some recommendations for helping young Americans improve their financial capability. We also shared these during our  national conference on youth financial education and capability.

The conference brought together over 100 public, private, and nonprofit organization leaders from across the country who are dedicated to advancing the financial education of American youth. We discussed:

  • Challenges and opportunities  for integrating personal finance into existing curriculum and offering stand-alone high school personal finance classes
  • Increasing access to high-quality teacher training in financial education
  • Strengthening and expanding school-based financial education efforts  by using online and mobile technology
  • The need for financial education initiatives to help students develop  decision-making and financial skills

Check out our conference summary to learn more about the conference.

We’re committed to helping consumers improve their capability to make sound financial choices by providing innovative tools and information online, including resources like Ask CFPB and Paying for College.

Stay tuned to learn more about what we’re doing next in financial education.

How much money is spent on advertising financial products?

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If you think about it, you probably see a lot of advertising for products and services for managing your money. Television ads, highway billboards, Internet banner ads, offers in your mailbox, and more.

We decided to find out how much money is spent on advertising to Americans each year for financial products and services. No surprise—it’s a big number. Financial services companies spend about $17 billion each year on marketing. That works out to about $54 a person per year. That doesn’t even count marketing of retirement products, college loans, and investment products.

We also looked at how much money is spent on financial education in America. Again, no surprise—it’s less than the amount spent on marketing. As a nation, we spend only about $670 million dollars on financial education, about $2 a person per year.

Advertising can be helpful and give you important information. By law, it cannot represent a product or service deceptively, but naturally advertisements are biased because they aim to entice you to buy a product. On the other hand, financial education provides more comprehensive and neutral information.

Advertising is intended to attract your attention and persuade. It has to be fresh and new all the time. But the skills and habits that come from financial education can last a lifetime. When you see financial advertising, consider the source. Shop around and ask questions. Ask CFPB is a great place to see unbiased answers to common questions.

You can read the report to learn more about what we found and how we gathered these numbers.

We’re looking for innovative partners for financial education research

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Many of us find it challenging to manage our money and today’s financial marketplace can be overwhelming. That’s why we’re testing innovative strategies to help overcome common financial challenges that many people may face on a regular basis.

For example, many people want to save — for emergencies, college, retirement, or other goals. But they may be overwhelmed by the range of savings products and choices available, and not start saving at all. When people have the option to make savings automatic, more of them succeed in meeting their savings goals.

We’ve been taking a close look at situations like failing to save, where consumers’ actions seem out of step with their goals. We’re investigating what might be swaying the decisions and what solutions or tools might work well. Now we’re ready to test a few ideas and see how helpful they are for consumers.

We’re seeking educational organizations, businesses, and other innovators to work with us to research approaches for helping consumers overcome common decision-making challenges around their finances. Then, we’ll evaluate how well they work and share the results with financial educators, policymakers, and the public.

If your organization is interested in working with us to test a new approach to helping consumers address some key financial challenges, check out the criteria and let us know by November 8, 2013 that you’re interested.

Through a public procurement, we’ve contracted with an independent third party to help us carry out this project. Their site has more information on the program and the criteria.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Live from Madison, Wisconsin!

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Today’s live event has ended.

We were at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) for a field hearing on youth and post-secondary financial education. There were remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray, followed by a panel discussion, and testimony from consumer groups, industry representatives, and members of the public.

A recording of the event is available below.

It’s back to school season, so let’s have the #MoneyTalk

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With every new school year, your kids get closer to the time when they’ll live their own financial lives. It’s a good time to think about how kids are learning sensible money habits, in school, at home, and in the community. For younger kids, maybe their classroom exercises feature math and money. For teens, they may be able (or even required) to take a personal finance class. Schools, educators, and other organizations offer chances to explore financial games, apps, clubs, and activities. Parents can be a powerful ally in helping these money lessons take root, because research shows that parents have the strongest influence on the way their kids think about money.

Join us next Tuesday, August 27 from 1-2 p.m. ET on Twitter. Just follow along with the hashtag #MoneyTalk; we’ll be joined by folks from Kids.gov and the Jump$tart Coalition.

Let us know if you’re coming by emailing us at FinancialEducation@CFPB.gov.

Got questions about age-appropriate activities for your kids? Just Ask CFPB or submit a question of your own. It’s never too early to help your kids make smart money choices – and it’s never too late.