Being Wise with Your Windfall: Tips for Using Your Tax Refund

coins-currency-investment-insuranceIf you’re expecting a hefty tax refund this year, you may, like many people, intend to have some fun with your windfall. After all, it’s your money and you worked hard for it. There’s nothing wrong with heading out for some much-needed vacation time or buying a big gas grill for those summer cookouts. As tempting as that may sound, before you buy anything, consider the benefits of using a tax refund to better your financial situation.

Savings

If you’re among the many Americans who lack a rainy-day fund, think about setting all or part of your refund aside in an interest-bearing savings account. You never know when the transmission in your car may give out or an aging roof might start to leak. These are costly repairs, and the average American is unprepared for them; in fact, just 39 percent of Americans are capable of covering an emergency costing $1,000 or more. If you lack at least three months worth of emergency savings, that tax refund may serve you better as an emergency financial reserve.

If your roof could use some work, repairing it is an excellent use for a tax refund. You’ll head off more serious problems resulting from neglect somewhere down the line. But be diligent in looking for a qualified roofing contractor, and ask yourself several questions to determine what, exactly, you need. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure your contractor is accredited, and check out the BBB website for complaints or any disputes or scams a company may have been involved in, as well as tips regarding what to look out for.

Pay Down Debt

Debt is a fact of life for most Americans. If you struggle with credit card debt or are behind on the mortgage, your refund can help you out. Paying off debt is a smart move because the high-interest merry-go-round can be very hard to get off when you’re just managing it by paying the minimum every month. That can take you years to pay off even a moderate amount.

College Savings

According to CNN Money, most Americans can expect to pay about $57,000 for a degree at a public college, and more than $100,000 at a private institution. That’s a lot of money for anyone. Why not use your refund to open a 529 or Coverdell education savings account? And investing in your state’s 529 plan may result in a nice state income tax deduction. However, beware of using the money for unqualified purposes, which can earn you a 10 percent penalty.

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA lets you stash money away that becomes tax-free after age 59.5 as long as it’s been open for at least five years. You can contribute to it as you wish and withdraw the sum of your contributions without being hit with a tax or penalty. Your Roth earnings can be used tax-free for education expenses or for a first-time home purchase.

Invest in Yourself

You are your own most valuable resource, your best hope for earning and growing your assets. Improve your ability to do that by investing in training, additional education, or by joining a professional association. It’s a good way to sharpen your skill set, pick up new knowledge, and make valuable new professional connections. The more you can improve yourself, the more valuable you’ll be to an employer or to clients.

Travel

Speaking of self-improvement, are you aware that travel broadens perspective and helps you keep problems, challenges, failures, and successes in their proper context? Think about spending a portion of your refund to go someplace new, a destination that’s always interested you.

Think of a tax refund as an opportunity, an annual chance to improve your financial situation and personal prospects. Think carefully before heading off to the Jacuzzi store or ordering a season football ticket package. By being strategic with your financial prospects, you can put yourself in a much better position to acquire those “toys” you really want and achieve financial security.

Ten Investment Lesson from Warren Buffett

InvestmentsAnyone who follows the business world, finance, and investing has heard of Warren Buffett. He is no doubt of the world’s greatest investment minds of all time. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, has an investing track record that is simply astounding. The compounded returns all the way from 1965 has averaged close to 21%. Buffett has offered a ton of advice during his investment career. I will touch into 10 important lessons anyone can learn from his vast wisdom and experience.

 

The first lesson is one of SIMPLICITY. Buffett says that you should understand the business you are investing in and how it actually makes money. That way, you can see when it is a good investment and when it is not by being able to analyze it better.

 

The second lesson is to START EARLY. Start investing in equities at a young age and with the power of compounding interest, you will be able to get rich over time. You will also be able to recover from market drops with a long-term investing horizon.

 

Next, know that CASH IS KING! Cash flow of companies is very important for their probability. Debt can be a killer. Also, if you have cash on hand to invest, then you are able to pick the best investments and buy when the time is right.

 

Fourth, FUNDAMENTAL ANALYSIS TRUMPS TECHNICAL ANALYSIS: understand the financial statements of a company and its intrinsic value, don’t just think you can look at a stock price chart and think it has all the information you need. Over the long turn, the price of an investment will reflect the fundamentals of a company.

 

From the fourth lesson, comes the fifth: BE CHEAP! Buy companies at reasonable valuations. Over time, companies reflect an average valuation. Buy a good company at a fair or even a cheap price. Don’t overpay for your investments.

 

Sixth, BE SELECTIVE when choosing your investments. Buffett once said that you should look at your stock buying like a punch card with a limited amount of punches you can take. Maybe even just 20 over your investing career.

 

Nest, if you are following lessons five and six, FOCUS ON THE LONG-TERM. There are always going to be short-term fluctuations in equity prices. These reflect emotions, bad news, good news, and whatever is the flavor at the moment. Unless the fundamental nature of the business changes, don’t panic and sell, or be in a rush to buy.

 

Seven, DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE A CONTRARIAN. A contrarian is someone who will go against the market consensus or the current investing environment. This could be selling when there is mania and stock prices are sky high and overpriced and then holding the cash to invest in a great company at a cheap price that may just be struggling for the short-term. Or it could be the brave act of buying when everyone is selling because you are getting once in a lifetime bargain pricing on great companies.

 

Next on the list is to BE UNEMOTIONAL WHEN CHOOSING INVESTMENTS. Don’t buy a stock because it is a popular company, or because everyone is buying it. Don’t sell because of the market downturn. Base your decisions on logic and good financial data.

 

Remember this next lesson: DON’T TRY TO TIME THE MARKET! Buffett says Mr. Market is always right. In the long run, prices will return to average valuations, while over the short-term anything can happen. Tune out all the “noise” and information overload you see from the financial press and focus on your plan to find great companies at fair to cheap prices.

 

Lastly, and number ten on the list is to AVOID PAYING HIGH FEES. Over an investor’s lifetime, fees can take a huge chunk out of your overall returns. Look for companies that charge less and take out less in fees. This is sometimes called the biggest secret in the investment world that the average investor doesn’t pay attention to at all. I would lump TAXES as a part of investment fees. Do things that reduce your tax liability which will, of course, boost your returns over time.

 

Buffett stuck to these principles and many more to get to where he is today, Although they may seem simple enough to follow, many of us will get off track. We can hurt our long-term investing track records by thinking we can always beat the market. Even Buffett has not beaten the market one hundred percent of the time. But he was able to whip the market during bad times by not losing big when times are tough. That’s why he is still around today and one of the greatest investors of all time.

 

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Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who focuses on personal finance and other money matters. She currently writes for Checkworks.com, where you can get personal checks and business checks.