Pay Off Debt & Improve Credit

Experts say the smart way to spend your tax refund check is by paying off credit card debt and building up a savings account to help improve your credit score. It's tempting to think about buying that bigscreen TV or even getting a swimming pool installed -- but a rush to spend your income tax refund can erode the value of the refund, said Carol Young, Kansas State University Research and Extension financial management specialist.

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Think it through first

"Weighing needs versus wants can put the brakes on spending. The family may want a big screen TV, but may need more dependable transportation," said Young, who urged taxpayers anticipating a refund to ask themselves:

  • Do I have outstanding -- or past due -- bills?
  • Am I carrying a balance on my credit card?
  • Can I use the refund to clean up holiday bills? Should I set aside part of it to eliminate holiday bills this year?
  • Do I have a big expense -- such as property taxes, an insurance premium, loan payment or major car repair -- coming up?
  • Do I have adequate emergency funds set aside?
  • Have I contributed to my retirement account or IRA (Individual Retirement Account)?

"Adding $500 a year to an Individual Retirement Account can yield $68,100 in 30 years. Increasing your contribution by $25 each year could yield up to $113,800," Young said.

"People sometimes think of a tax refund as forced savings, yet, in reality, the taxpayer has provided a loan to the government without earning any interest," Young said. "If a refund is substantial, check with the human resources department at work to adjust withholding to better match your tax liability."

Don't have an emergency fund?

"Three- to six-months savings is a goal recommended for an emergency fund, but one that may not seem easily attainable," Young said. "To begin, try to put away $5 or $10 a week to build emergency savings." Still feel the urge to splurge?

After paying down debt and adding to savings for short- and long-term goals, set aside a small amount as a reward -- spend it on something you or your whole family will enjoy!

Get more tax smarts:

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