The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Get a tax refund every year? You shouldn’t.


So many people look forward to getting a a tax refund year after year.

Just before the tax deadline this year, the IRS said the average refund was $3,120, almost 9 percent more than the $2,851 people were getting last year.

You might be feeling good that you got money back from old Uncle Sam. But unless you have a change in your tax situation – bought a home, had a baby or got married – it’s not your uncle sending you new money. The federal government is just sending back what you let it keep all year.

Most financial experts say it’s a bad idea to get a refund year after year if there’s no change in your tax situation. Read the following articles on why a getting a refund isn’t the best financial move.

“The government doesn’t pay you a cent of interest while it’s holding your money hostage,” writes Wendy Connick for the Motley Fool.

“Getting a big tax refund each year isn’t necessarily a good thing,” writes Constance Brinkley-Badgett in a blog post for “It means you haven’t been putting that money to work for you all year long.”

But I concede that no matter how much we preach that getting a refund isn’t great, it’s not totally bad either., a financial blog site that I love, posted a story (5 reasons it’s okay to get a tax refund) several tax seasons ago with some still sound reasons why getting a refund isn’t the worse financial move. Here are some of the points made:

You wouldn’t have earned much interest anyway. Savings rates are so pitiful that you aren’t losing much money by lending the government your money. Of course if you had invested the money in the stock market when it was riding high, the potential earnings were a good bit better.

It can force you to save. A survey this year by found that many people plan to use their refund to build an emergency fund or pay down debt. Twenty-seven percent of Americans said they will get rid of some debt and 34 percent said they plan to save or invest their refund. has a great graphic that shows how adjusting your withholdings to increase your take-home pay by $50 per biweekly check could net more than $105,000 for your retirement.

And if you do decide to change your withholding, here’s the way to do it:  It’s not fun to do a ‘paycheck checkup’ — but do it anyway. 

Of course, if you’re going to get a refund, you might want to think of smart ways to spend it: The case for treating yourself to a tax refund

Read more: 

What to do right now to improve your 2018 tax return

Red flags that your tax preparer is a fraud