What to Do with Your Income Tax Refund

Featured Article, Finance, Home & Family
on April 19, 2013

If you’re anticipating a tax refund this year, chances are you’ve already thought about how you’ll spend the money. Maybe you’ll pay bills, fund your summer vacation or treat yourself to something nice. Here’s one more excellent use for your tax refund: take control of your debt.

From bolstering your savings to paying off high-interest credit card debt, your tax return can go a long way toward helping you get on top of your finances. Here are six ways to use your refund and have a positive impact on your financial wellbeing:

1. Build up your emergency fund. Everyone should have an emergency fund of enough cash set aside to cover several months worth of expenses should you lose your job. It can be difficult, however, to regularly route money from your paycheck into your backup fund. Tax return money is a great way to give your emergency fund a quick growth spurt.

2. Pay off high-interest debt. High-interest debt costs you in so many ways, from the expense of paying interest to the negative impact too much debt can have on your credit score or even the risk of falling behind on paying bills. If you decide to use your refund to pay off credit card bills, prioritize: pay off ones that have missed payments or that cost you the most in interest.

3. Repay cash advances or payday loans. Although there’s almost never a good enough reason to take on one of these very costly types of loans, the reality is many people turn to payday loans or cash advances to make ends meet. The effective interest rate on this type of loan can be astronomical, so using your refund to pay them off can help you catch up on debt.

4. Save toward a goal. Maybe you want to buy a house within the next five years, or need to replace your tired, worn-out car. Or, perhaps you just dream of a flat-screen in your living room. Virtually everyone has a big-ticket item they would like to buy. If your refund isn’t enough to cover the cost, it can be a great starting point and a motivator to continue saving toward your specific goal.

5. Beef up your IRA/401(k). If you haven’t yet contributed the maximum allowable amount to your retirement fund this year, your tax refund can help you make the most of your retirement savings. Check with your plan administrator to be sure what the limits are and contribute extra if you’re not at the limit.

6. Keep on top of your credit. If understanding your credit is an objective (and it should be for everyone), consider enrolling in a monitoring product like freecreditscore.com. Websites like freecreditscore.com offer the chance to get credit score alerts, identity protection alerts, and fraud resolution support if you find an error on your credit report. Credit reports and monthly statements can help you stay on top of your credit so you can notice any immediate changes.

7. Reward yourself. If you’ve been diligent about staying on top of your credit and finances throughout the year, there’s nothing wrong with using part of your tax refund to reward yourself. Maybe you’ll take that day trip you’ve been planning or purchase that handbag you’ve had your eye on. It’s OK to reward yourself for a job well done – as long as you make sure to use the lion’s share of your refund to help you move closer to your financial goals.