Some people go to extremes in their attempts to save on their taxes. According to a Bankrate.com article, there's the man who had been claiming his dog as a dependent for years; the man who had his furniture store torched after failing to find a buyer, collected $500,000 from his insurance company, and then got caught when he tried to deduct the $10,000 he paid to the arsonist as a "consulting fee;" and the man who accidentally flushed his dentures down the toilet and then tried to claim the loss as an "act of God casualty loss.”

Of course, most people are more honest than that. But most also tend to overpay their taxes, giving Uncle Sam, in essence, a free loan. Around 80 percent of filers get money back, with the average amount totaling over $3,000.

Many people are happy to get a big refund check. Some consider it a form of forced savings, and that’s okay if you can’t save otherwise and as long as the refund is used for productive purposes like paying down debt or building savings (although it seems that big-screen TV sales tend to go up right about the time when refund checks start hitting mailboxes).

If you usually get a tax refund, consider changing how much is withheld from your paycheck throughout the year. While it’s too late to influence how much you’ll owe or get back this time around (actually, you have until April 15th to make contributions to an IRA or Health Savings Account for last year), right now would be a good time to start managing next year’s tax bill.

You can estimate how much you should be paying in taxes by using the IRS online calculator.  Better yet, download the forms you need and fill them out by hand. After doing that for a number of years, I created an Excel spreadsheet with the relevant boxes from the federal 1040, Schedule A (itemized deductions), and the Child Tax Credit worksheet. Taking a more hands-on approach has helped me understand how different factors impact how much we pay in tax.

If you find that you’re overpaying, contact the human resources or payroll department where you work and have your withholding adjusted accordingly.

We all have to pay our taxes, but there’s no requirement to overpay.

How do you manage your taxes? Do you like getting a refund or do you prefer not to use the Uncle Sam savings plan?