Tax time is a great time to jump-start your savings. Here are some tips to keep in mind as we wrap up this tax season.

1) Avoid expensive preparers or loans. Keep more of your own money by avoiding expensive tax preparation or refund-anticipation loans. Many communities have Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites available which provide electronic filing and tax-preparation assistance at no charge for eligible taxpayers. Here in Garden City, contact the Senior Center or United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries to ask about eligibility for their free tax preparation services.

If you do decide to use a paid tax preparation service, you can keep your cost down by declining any refund-anticipation-loan (RAL) products. These loans really only amount to paying fees and interest to borrow your own money! E-filing and direct depositing your refund can reduce your waiting time and avoid these costly services.

2) Pay only what you must. In order to maximize your tax refund, work to reduce your income subject to taxes by taking advantage of tax deductions and credits. Deductions lower your taxable income, and credits lower your taxes. Tax deductions can include interest expenses on student loans, medical expenses and contributions to qualified retirement plans. If you can itemize certain expenses, then you may be able to deduct mortgage interest paid, taxes paid, charitable gifts and more.

Regardless of whether you use a standard or itemized deduction, many people can take advantage of tax credits. Like deductions, credits can help you receive a larger refund. Check into the Earned Income Tax Credit a tax credit for lower-income families and other 2009 tax credits at the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov.

3) Pay yourself first. When it comes to increasing savings, the old wisdom of paying yourself first comes to mind. Now with IRS Form 8888 you can directly deposit funds from your tax refund into up to three different accounts, including your savings and retirement accounts.

4) It's not too late for retirement savings. Even though 2009 has come and gone, you can still help your tax bill by maximizing your contributions to tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Contributions to a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) can reduce your taxable income and can be made up until you file your tax return for the previous year.

Remember to take advantage of every deduction and credit you can! Taxes have a big impact on your family's financial situation and a refund may be a great way to start saving.

To learn more about financial topics, go to www.ksre.ksu.edu/financialmanagement or see my blog at SWKTalk.com/livingwell.