With every tax season comes the possibility of receiving a refund check from Uncle Sam, depending on how many allowances you claimed on your W-4. While this refund may feel like free money every year, it’s important to remember that this “bonus” is actually income you earned during the previous tax year — the government is simply returning it to you because you paid more tax than you actually owed.
While it can be tempting to spend your refund on fun extras this year, there are a variety of financially responsible ways you can spend the money instead, including options that allow you to save, invest and, yes, even splurge a little. To help you decide what to do with your 2019 tax return, here are ten different ideas that will ensure you’re making a wise financial decision this tax season.
- Start an emergency savings fund
If you don’t already have an emergency savings fund, building one should be your first priority. If you have debt, a starter emergency fund of $1,000 is a good place to start— after you’re out of debt, building this emergency fund to include between three to six months of expenses will ensure you’re financially prepared for life’s inevitable twists and turns.
- Make a credit card payment
Credit cards carry some of the highest interest rates around, with the average card carrying a whopping rate of 19.02%! With rates this high, paying off these balances could take years, especially if you only make the minimum required payments. Whether you use your refund to pay off a card in full or just make a sizable dent in your balance, you’ll lower the amount of interest you pay and improve your credit score by lowering your debt-to-income ratio.
- Make an extra mortgage payment
Although it may seem like your refund won’t make enough of a dent in your mortgage to have an impact, even an extra payment or two can shave off a significant amount of interest in the long run. This is a great option if you aren’t carrying a balance on a high-interest credit card and already have a strong emergency fund built up.
- Save it for an upcoming expense
Between buying birthday presents, getting an annual eye exam, and renewing your car registration every year (to name a few), life has a way of throwing extra expenses your way, whether you anticipate them or not. If you have any upcoming expenses, using your refund to pay for them can save you the stress of dipping into your regular monthly budget.
- Join a gym
Investing in your health offers a wide range of benefits. Many gyms offer a variety of fitness classes and personal trainers, so you can easily find what motivates you to stay active during the week. Along with equipment geared towards all fitness levels and other like-minded people working to improve their overall health, a gym membership is a worthwhile way to spend your refund. Just make sure you’re able to stay motivated and go regularly to make the investment worth it!
- Make necessary home repairs
Does the siding on your house need replaced? How about your washer or dryer? Maybe the living room needs a new coat of paint. Your home is likely your largest investment, so consider taking the time and spending your refund to make necessary repairs or upgrades. A higher home value will help when and if the time to sell comes.
- Start a 529 plan
National student loan debt has reached an all-time high of nearly $1.5 trillion, with the average American carrying a balance of $25,000 after graduation. With tuition costs rising year after year, your children or grandchildren will appreciate the extra cushion when it comes time to send them off to college. Consider setting up a 529 savings plan to help them afford a higher education.
- Invest in the stock market
If you don’t have an immediate financial need, investing your refund in individual stocks can give you a great return for your money in the future. While the long-term outlook has the potential to be rewarding, remember— investing in stocks is a calculated risk. Never invest money you can’t afford to lose.
- Support a charitable cause
Another great option for spending your tax return if you don’t have an immediate financial need is donating to a cause or local charity that you support. If you do choose to donate, be sure to save your receipts in case you itemize your deductions next year.
- Have a little fun
If you have an emergency savings fund, no outstanding, high-interest debt, and no major home repairs or upcoming expenses on the horizon, it’s time to treat yourself— within reason. Whether you choose to spend your refund on a vacation or a shopping spree, be mindful that you don’t spend more than your refund. Putting yourself into debt at the expense of blowing off a little steam will only bring you regret later.
Everyone’s personal finances and individual circumstances are different, so it’s important to assess your own and decide which use of your tax refund will benefit you the most. When it comes to reviewing your expenses and current financial status during tax season, The Banks of Buffalo, Gillette and Sheridan help make it easy for you to stay on track with our free online banking. Whether you need to access your account information, transfer funds, or make a mobile deposit, we have you covered with our 24/7 banking services. Visit our website today to learn how you can enroll in online banking in time for tax season!