Four out of five American households are expected to get a tax refund this year, with an average refund of more than $3,000. There are several smart ways to use your tax refund, such as for paying off credit card debt, building up an emergency fund, or just getting caught up on your bills.

On the other hand, if your credit card debt is under control, you have sufficient cash to cover unforeseen expenses, and you're generally in good financial shape, using your tax refund to add to your investments can be the smartest move. In fact, a $3,000 tax refund invested for 30 years that simply matches the stock market's historical rate of return could grow to more than $45,000.

With that in mind, here are three great stocks that could help you put your tax refund to work in 2018.

Tax refund check laid on top of a 1040 form.

Image source: Getty Images.

Perhaps the best all-around stock in the market

If I could only own one stock, it would be Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B), hands down.

Warren Buffett speaking with the media.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett. Image source: The Motley Fool.

While portfolio diversification is certainly important, Berkshire actually does a pretty good job of it, and in a single stock investment. The company's 60-plus subsidiary businesses operate in a wide variety of industries, with major operations in insurance, railroads, utilities, and consumer products. And many of Berkshire's subsidiaries are household names -- the company owns GEICO, Duracell, Fruit of the Loom, and Dairy Queen, just to name a few.

In addition, Berkshire owns a massive, well-diversified $181 billion stock portfolio that includes large investments in Apple, American Express, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, and Wells Fargo.

While Berkshire's size means annualized returns above 20% are unlikely on a sustained basis going forward, the company's time-tested growth strategy could still produce market-beating investment returns with a minimal amount of risk.

It's also worth mentioning that since Berkshire is the only stock of the three on this list that doesn't pay a dividend (Buffett prefers to reinvest profits into the business), it works well in a taxable account as well as in a retirement account.

A high dividend and massive growth potential

High dividends are nice, but the combination of high dividends, sustainability, and long-tailed growth potential is a long-term investor's dream. That's why Welltower (NYSE:WELL) should be on your radar.

Welltower is a real estate investment trust, or REIT, focused on healthcare properties -- particularly senior housing and other senior-focused properties. About 83% of the portfolio's income is derived from senior housing and long-term/post-acute care facilities. It is the largest healthcare REIT and one of the largest REITs of any kind in the market.

Welltower has underperformed recently, in part due to oversupply fears in the senior housing market. While this could indeed be a headwind in the near term, the growing senior citizen population should keep demand growing for decades. In fact, the 85-and-up age group (senior housing's key demographic) is expected to double over the next 20 years. By 2025, the need for senior housing units in the U.S. is expected to be growing at a rate of 92,000 every year.

Chart showing projected growth in senior housing through 2035.

Image source: Welltower.

Additionally, Welltower's size and financial strength, combined with its focus on high-barrier urban markets, many of which are underserved, should give the company an edge. To name an example, Welltower currently has a property in development in Midtown Manhattan, where the availability of assisted living is five times less than the national average. Similar developments in Toronto and London are also under way.

A beaten-down bank with lots of upside potential

Most stocks in the banking industry have been on fire over the past two years, but New York Community Bancorp (NYSE:NYCB) has been a big laggard.

XLF Chart

XLF data by YCharts.

If you're not familiar, New York Community Bancorp is a mid-sized bank with about $49 billion in assets, and it's a niche lender specializing in loans backed by rent-controlled apartment buildings in New York City. Because of the nature of its loans, the bank's efficiency is better than that of most banks, and defaults are nearly zero.

Going forward, New York Community Bancorp stands to benefit from the major tailwinds benefiting the rest of the industry, such as tax reform and rising interest rates. So, why has the stock performed so poorly?

One reason is the bank's merger-gone-wrong with Astoria Financial, which left a bad taste in investors' mouths. Another is that the bank has been on the verge of surpassing the $50 billion asset threshold for years, which would make it a Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI), resulting in greater regulatory oversight and increased compliance costs. In order to avoid exceeding the threshold, New York Community has been paying high dividends rather than reinvesting in the business, and it has also been preparing for the increased compliance, which has been quite costly.

Here's the point. The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that would increase the SIFI threshold to $250 billion, and banks with less than $100 billion would be immediately exempt from the current regulatory requirements. This is far from a done deal, but it looks likely to happen sooner rather than later. And when it does, it would be a huge win for the bank, as it would allow it to regain its efficiency advantage and pursue further growth opportunities.

Matthew Frankel owns shares of American Express, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and New York Community Bancorp. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Welltower. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.