It’s tax time, the most wonderful time of the year. Well, not really but many of you will be getting a refund and a few extra dollars back in your pocket is always a good thing.
I’m frequently asked about smart ways to spend your refund, but I think my answer could more appropriately be titled – Smart ways to save your refund. If you owe taxes this year, you have my condolences. If you’re getting money back, here are my top three tips for what to do with your refund:
1. Start or enhance your emergency fund– Do you have at least a thousand dollars in a savings account? If your answer is no, you should make it a priority to stash away enough to have a minimum one thousand dollar safety net. If you already have that much saved, you’ve made it over the first hurdle. Now, you need to work on setting aside enough to cover six months worth of living expenses. And remember, don’t keep your savings account at your regular bank. It’ll be too easy and too tempting to pull money out. Put your emergency fund in the bank across town where it’s not as easily accessible because this account is only for true emergencies.
2. Pay off debt– Start with credit cards. Or heaven forbid you to have any of those payday loans, put those on the priority payment list as well. If you’re in good shape on your consumer debt, put the money towards your car loan or home equity line. Most people have some form of debt they could use their refund to pay down.
3. Save for an expense you know is coming– Get ahead of the game by planning and saving for an upcoming expense. Are you going on vacation? Is your vehicle going to need new tires soon? Is your washing machine nearing the end of its useful life? Don’t be caught without the money to pay cash for these kinds of things. These are not emergencies. Let me repeat that. If you can plan for an event, it is not an emergency. You must budget for it and save for it.
A check in the mail, or directly deposited into your bank account, may seem like a windfall and a cause for a spending celebration. But it’s far better to use that money to further your financial security.
Clare Levison is a Certified Public Accountant and the author of Frugal Isn’t Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better. Follow her on Twitter @clarelevison.