Personal Finance

9 smart things to do with your tax refund

Robert Schenckel, who works as a commercial artist, expects to receive a refund this tax year. He plans to spend it on a priceless memory: a “Big Apple” birthday getaway for his wife and daughters.
Robert Schenckel, who works as a commercial artist, expects to receive a refund this tax year. He plans to spend it on a priceless memory: a “Big Apple” birthday getaway for his wife and daughters. EL NUEVO HERALD

Miami artist Robert Schenkel is one of the U.S. income tax filers — roughly seven out of 10 — who will receive a tax refund. The average amount: about $2,800, according to the most recent IRS data. That’s a significant amount of money that can be put toward a variety of financial goals. Or in Schenkel’s case, toward an investment in memories: a New York City weekend for his wife with their daughters as a birthday present.

A tax refund is an opportunity to do something smart with your money. The following are nine brilliant ways you can spend your refund.

▪ Invest: From buying stocks to putting money away in a college fund, there are several ways you can invest your tax refund. For example, you can use your tax refund to invest in a business, pay next year’s taxes and more.

▪ Open a 529 Plan: Andrew Schrage of personal finance blog Money Crashers told us last year, “Lots of people put off starting a 529 savings account or an IRA for a child because they think they can’t afford it. Using a tax refund to do so is one way to get around that obstacle.”

A 529 Plan is a savings plan that helps families pay for college. With this plan, you can also qualify for special tax benefits because your earnings are not subjected to federal (or state) tax. In other words, the distributions are tax-free.

▪ Give your home a facelift. Tax refunds can vary. Luckily, it can require very little money to give your home’s value a major boost.

▪ Pad your emergency fund. If you are one of the 60 percent of Americans who are financially unprepared for an emergency, then this might be one of the first things you should do with your tax refund. Many experts recommend saving at least six months’ worth of living expenses, which can seem like a daunting goal. Putting your tax refund right into an emergency fund can give your savings a major boost without requiring a lot of effort. Plus, it can give you some much-needed peace of mind.

▪ Fund your retirement. If you are late to the retirement savings game, contribute your 2014 tax refund to an IRA. Not only will contributing to an IRA help you see significant savings on your 2015 taxes, but you'll also be making significant strides toward your retirement goals.

If you are in a low tax bracket now, you can also consider contributing to a Roth IRA. You won’t see the same savings on your 2015 taxes, but you won’t be taxed when you withdraw the funds during retirement.

▪ Pay down debt. Using your tax refund to help pay down debt can remove a huge weight off your shoulders and save you tons in additional interest. It can also help you increase your net worth and improve your cash flow, which will help you reach other important financial goals, like a vacation.

▪ Donate to charity. Making a donation to charity is a great way to serve others, give to those in need and improve your own sense of self. And there just so happens to be the benefit of a possible tax benefit as well. Donations to qualifying charities are tax-deductible, which can help you save more on next year’s taxes.

▪ Splurge. If you’re already a super saver, you don’t have any debt and you feel confident with your investments, then go ahead and splurge – you deserve it. Just like we all need an extra cookie or slice of pizza every once in a while, treating yourself to a spending splurge can give you some relief from living on a budget. Just make sure you don’t go overboard.

▪ Buy a car: Do you have your eyes on a new car that you’ve been dying to buy? If so, then use your tax refund to put a down payment on the car of your dreams. Currently, auto loan interest rates are low, but they are expected to rise later this year. Now is the time to get a good deal on an auto loan.

The article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald. com/insight.

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