If you have a refund check coming your way, consider using it to bolster your personal balance sheet. The average refund is usually around $3,000, and most people receive the money within three weeks of filing their returns (I filed our taxes a few days before the April 17 deadline and received ours in a little over a week, woo!).
So, chances are you have a nice chunk of change in your bank account right now, do you know what you want to do with it? If you don’t have a plan in place, you might end up making a few flashy purchases, spend a bit more money than usual for a few weeks, then regret not putting it towards something more meaningful once that surplus is gone. Here are nine good things you could do with the money.
If your refund was substantial, consider giving yourself an immediate raise by adjusting your tax withholding to increase your take-home pay. You’ll see more dollars show up in your paycheck and lessen the amount of that interest free loan you give to Uncle Sam.
PAY OFF CREDIT-CARD DEBT
Using your refund to pay off a balance with an 18% interest rate is like earning an 18% return on your investments. I’ll take that all day, every day.
REBUILD YOUR EMERGENCY FUND
It’s a good idea to keep three to six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, so you don’t end up in debt or have to raid your retirement funds if you have unexpected expenses. If you’ve had to tap the fund over the past few years, you can use your refund to help build the account back up. Keep the money easily accessible in a savings account or money-market account that earns some interest.
BOOST RETIREMENT SAVINGS
You can contribute up to $5,500 to a Roth IRA for 2018 (or $6,500 if 50 or older) — and withdraw the money tax-free in retirement. You can contribute the full $5,500 as long as your income falls below $118,000 if you’re single, and $186,000 if married filing a joint tax return. You can make a partial contribution if you earn less than $133,000 if single or $196,000 if married filing jointly. If you work and your spouse does not, you can also contribute to a Roth IRA in his or her name if your joint income is within those limits. Even if you earn too much for a Roth, you can contribute to a nondeductible traditional IRA, then convert it to a Roth.
BUILD YOUR COLLEGE SAVINGS
It’s always hard to juggle saving for college and retirement. Here’s an opportunity to use your extra money to contribute to a 529 account. You’ll be able to use the money tax-free for college bills, and you could get a state income-tax deduction for your contribution.
HELP YOUR KID SAVE
You can use the extra money to contribute to a Roth IRA for your child. Your kid is eligible as long as he or she has earned income — from mowing yards or babysitting, for example. Your child can contribute up to $5,500 or the amount of his or her earned income for the year, whichever is lower, and you can give him the cash to do it.
MAKE HOME IMPROVEMENTS
Your refund won’t be enough to redo your kitchen or bathroom, but it can pay for some smaller home improvements. Use the extra cash to add a backsplash, paint a room or cabinets, replace your bathroom sink, swap out your faucets, organize a closet, install a programmable thermostat or spruce up your yard.
SAVE FOR SOMETHING SPECIAL
Set aside some money for vacation rather than using your credit card and paying interest long after you have returned. Or you can use some of your refund to start saving for holiday gift-giving or help with other short-term goals, such as for a down payment on a new car.
MAKE AN EXTRA PAYMENT TOWARDS YOUR HOME LOAN
If you are on track with your other savings and investing goals for the year, consider making an extra payment towards your mortgage principal. Making an additional principal payment on your mortgage earns you an instant return the same way paying off your credit card balance does. Your personal balance sheet consists of all your assets and liabilities, it’s important to grow your assets (investments) for use in retirement, but don’t neglect the other side of the ledger either.
GIVE TO CHARITY
If you have your financial bases covered, consider using your refund to make a charitable contribution to help others in need. You’ll feel good — and you’ll be rewarded for your good deed when you file your tax return next year (charitable contributions are deductible if you itemize).
You also can use your refund to help accumulate enough money to open up a donor-advised fund. Most funds require a minimum of $5,000 to $10,000. You can claim a tax deduction in the year you make a contribution to the fund, but you have an almost unlimited amount of time to decide which charities to support.