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Give yourself an instant pay raise

Ken and Daria Dolan are widely known as America's First Family of Personal Finance.

Every time Ken and I hear someone brag about how they got a big, fat tax refund, it's all I can do not to scream. A tax refund is NOT a gift...it's NOT something to celebrate! A tax refund means you let Uncle Sam keep too much of your hard-earned money for the last 12 months!

So today let's stop the madness. Put an end to the interest-free loan you're so generously giving Uncle Sam and give yourself an instant pay raise instead! That's right, spend five minutes with us now and get a fatter paycheck all year long.

All you need is a pen, a calculator and a W-4 form (which you can get from your payroll administrator or click here to print one now.

Your W-4 is where you claim your allowances. Every allowance you claim equals about $690 in taxes withheld from your paycheck.

So, if you got a refund last year, divide the amount you received by $690. Then, raise your allowances by the nearest whole number (round down). For example, if you got a $1,500 refund, you should raise your allowances by two ($1,500 ÷ 690 = 2.17 which rounds down to 2).

That's all there is to it! Give your new W-4 to your payroll department and watch for an increase in your paychecks.

This also works in reverse. If you owed Uncle Sam money last year, you should lower your allowances by one for every $690 you received.

Keep in mind that there are other reasons you may want to change your allowances.

If you bought a home this year, you may want to add allowances (since mortgage interest is deductible).

If you refinanced at a lower interest rate, you may want to subtract allowances.

If you started contributing to a 401(k), add allowances; if you stopped contributing, subtract allowances.

You can use the worksheet on the back of your W-4 to recalculate how many allowances you can add or subtract depending on your personal circumstances

Do it today and start keeping more of your money in your paycheck rather than in Uncle Sam's pocket.

Ken and Daria Dolan, America's First Family of Finance, offer more tax tips through their web site and free newsletter at Dolans.com.

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