April 15 is now behind us, and most Americans, at least those who did not file an extension, have filed their taxes. Filing your annual tax return can cause disappointment when you learn you owe taxes, or result in excitement when you score a nice refund.
A tax refund can be a reasonably large sum of money (the average refund was just over $3,000 as of March 15) and it feels like a bonus even though you already earned it. Having your wages delivered this way can make it tempting to waste some, if not all, of your refund, but actually -- most Americans plan to use their refund in a much smarter way, according to a survey from market intelligence firm Numerator.
Where is the money going?
This year, more than half of all Americans who receive a tax refund (55%) plan to save all or most of it. In fact, 29% expect to save all of their refund, while 36% expect to save most of it. Another 14% expect to save half their refund, while only 15% of people plan to spend most of their refund, and 16% expect to spend it all.
Among spenders, the news is better than it sounds, because 40% of those spending at least some of their refund plan to use it for paying down debt. Another 15% will put their money toward home repairs, while 8.8% expect to spend at least some of their refund on car repairs.
"Size of refund appeared to be a slight indicator of spending intentions as those who received a larger refund this year (30%) were more likely to put it into savings (38%) or to buy something for themselves or family (25%). Those with smaller refunds (34%) were likely to use it to pay down debt (43%)," according to Numerator.
What should you do?
Not every American makes the best decisions when it comes to utilizing their tax refund. Some taxpayers buy frivolous items, while others use the money for travel they can't otherwise afford.
How you use your refund should depend upon your own financial situation. If you have high-interest debt, prioritize paying that off. That will produce the best return on investment and, assuming it's credit card debt, it will give you added borrowing power and decrease your credit utilization ratio that impacts your credit score.
Saving this money in an emergency fund is a great idea, if you don't have toxic debt to pay down. Aim for collecting a cash pile equivalent to six months of living expenses. This can protect you from going broke or being forced to use credit if you lose your job unexpectedly or you face a medical emergency that impacts your earning power.
If you're all set with no debt and you have a robust emergency fund, consider the shape of your retirement savings and whether that area could use a jolt from your tax refund. If you're in good shape with your retirement savings, perhaps spending your tax refund on a trip or a new television is sensible after all, but don't buy anything you wouldn't buy with your hard-earned money delivered via paycheck.
It's important to remember that a refund isn't a gift from the government, even if it feels like one. You're getting a check that's money you essentially loaned the government for free and it's important to treat the money well. Ideally, you'll put your refund to work for you in a way that makes your upcoming year better whether it's crushing debt, saving more, and maybe (if you're in a good enough financial position) spending some cash on something fun.