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.

Staying Out of Debt During Holiday Spending

Debt SpendingAre you ready for the holiday rush and buying spree? Traditionally, the holidays bring us a time of sharing and giving. But the cost of giving has increased over the years and you need to be aware of the burden it could put on your financial situation. With the change in most individual’s financial situation over the past year, this is a good time to reevaluate your holiday gift giving.

Most families spend around $500 on holiday gifts. If you put all those gifts on your credit card, the end result may surprise you. Do you have any idea how long you will be paying off those holiday gifts if you can only make the minimum payment each month? Let’s do some math:

$500 of holiday gifts: Let’s say you charge $500 on your credit card and only make the minimum monthly payment of $20. Some credit cards now are around the 19.99% interest rate for long period payoffs, you will be paying on those holiday gifts for 3 years! And to top it off, you will be paying the credit card company an additional $153 in interest (see Bank Rate website – www.bankrate.com/calculators/credit-cards/credit-card-payoff-calculator.aspx ).

What if your gifts top the $1000 mark: Now you have an after-the-holidays credit card bill starting at $1000, with the same $20 of minimum monthly payment and 19.99% interest rate. Are you sitting down? It will take you 9 years to pay off those gifts you purchased! The credit card company will be happy because you will pay them $1,167 in interest. Yes, that is correct you will be giving $1000 worth of holiday gifts to your friends and family, plus over time more than a $1000 gift to your credit card company.

Not to be a Scrooge, but there is a downside to credit card use if you can not pay it off in a month or two. Another option is the cash envelope and gift list method. Make a list of people you will be buying for, a dollar amount for each person and some great gift ideas you know they will love. Now hit the mall with list and cash envelope in hand. Your goal is not to purchase more than you have in your envelope.

A last tip to remember: the holidays are not always about the purchased gifts. Think back on all the unwanted, unneeded or forgotten gifts you have received over the years. If you were able to have something different from the giver, what would it have been?  What were the best holiday gifts you have received? Was it the homemade cookies, the framed children’s art work or just being able to spend time with your family and friends? The holidays are truly about sharing and giving; think about using your heart and mind instead of your credit card. Have a Happy and Financially Safe holiday!