We’ve been filing taxes for decades now, so we’ve heard all the standard advice — pay down debt, build an emergency fund and change your withholdings if you’re getting a big refund. Assuming you have those things covered (you do, right?), here are some smart next steps for your tax refund, according to tax and financial experts.
1. Boost your retirement savings
Saving for retirement is a top priority. “If you didn’t contribute the maximum amount to your IRA, then funnel your refund into that account,” says Thomas J. Williams, a tax accountant and cofounder of Deducting the Right Way, an online resource for entrepreneurs.
Open or contribute to a Roth IRA. This money has already been taxed, so it can go in your tax-free bucket and help with your retirement savings. “If tax rates go up for you this is a big win,” says Jason Matthews, president and CEO of Matthews Financial & Insurance Solutions in Oakland, Calif.
Fund your health savings account (HSA). If you are eligible to contribute to a health savings account, you can top off your account with your tax refund. “An HSA is one of the most powerful retirement security accounts we have available to use today. Contributions are pre-tax. The account balance grows tax-deferred if you don’t use it for medical expenses. And distributions can be income tax free if used for qualifying expenses,” says Brent Weiss, CFP and chief evangelist of Facet Wealth in Baltimore.
2. Increase your insurance
Do you need a long-term care policy? If you’re age 65, there is 70% chance you’ll need long-term care. “The average cost of long-term care is over $6,800 a month and can kill your nest egg,” Matthews says.
Do you need life insurance? “Life insurance could be a lifesaver for your family after you’re gone,” says Eileen Maki, a tax analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com in New York City. If you have a policy, review it to see if you’re adequately covered. “Making sure your last wishes are not a burden to your family as well as making sure they are cared for in your absence is the most loving thing you can do for them,” Maki says.
You can also contribute towards your cash value life insurance. “If you have a cash value life insurance policy that is designed for cash value, dump some of your tax refund into the policy. Make sure you speak with your life insurance agent first to find out how much you can contribute without making it taxable,” Matthews says.
3. Pay off holiday debt
According to a study published from The Motley Fool, 18% of people aged 45 and older went into debt this past holiday season. Of those people, 5.35% are planning to pay off that debt with their tax return.
4. Invest in your home
“Using your tax refund to maintain or improve your home is a sound investment,” Maki says. She recommends energy-efficient upgrades to help raise the value of your home and save you money.
5. Save for your grandchildren’s education
Steven Balsam, PhD, professor of accounting at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, says it might be a little late to save for your own children’s college expenses. But with the power of compound interest, even a small investment for a grandchild could add up to a significant amount by the time they are ready for college.
6. Get your finances in order
Have an expert review your financial situation so you’re in a strong position going forward. Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance blog Money Done Right, says, “Taxpayers should use part of their tax refunds to pay for financial counseling and planning services.”
7. Invest in the next phase of your life
You can spend your tax refund on the classes and resources you need to finance a hobby, launch a new career, or start a business. “We want to drive real purpose and impact in what many are calling the encore chapter,” Weiss says. “How can we make investments in education and development to prepare us to tackle our next exciting adventure?”
8. Reward yourself
“We should allow ourselves some room to celebrate and have fun. If you have a plan and you are on track to meet your goals, a tax refund can be a great way to pay for a short getaway or a nice vacation,” Weiss says.
“Think of it more as an investment in your health and wellness. We don’t always have to think about life experiences and vacations as expenses — they are important moments in life that allow us to recharge, enjoy the journey, and remain committed to our financial plan.”
9. Cross an item off your bucket list
What’s something you have been neglecting or postponing? “Whether it’s an adventurous outdoor excursion, international travel, or something smaller like taking music or dance lessons, use your refund as the catalyst to just go for it. The great thing about financial planning is that it’s not just about reaching some destination. It’s about enjoying the journey and growing and learning along the way,” Weiss says.
Whatever you decide to do with your tax refund, plan for it now. “Having an idea of how you will use the funds is always a good idea. If we have a plan when the refund finally hits our bank account, we are more likely to use it in ways that will support our financial life goals,” Weiss says.
And you don’t have to pick just one thing. “Think about three goals you are looking to achieve and spread your tax return between them. I always recommend making one of those goals a personal one. So maybe it’s saving for retirement, putting extra money in the 529 plan, and putting some money aside for a summer vacation. The key is to make a list of what matters most to you, so you are motivated to put that tax refund to good use,” Weiss says.