Your income tax refund: How to manage it wisely

Try these four steps for managing your income tax refund

As his grandmother, Annie Brown (left), waited for a tax volunteer (center rear) in Tarpon Springs, Fla., to tell her if she had a tax refund coming last year, toddler Jahiem Brown appeared just as nervous. Here are four steps to manage your tax refund wisely.

Perhaps you loaned Uncle Sam interest free this past year and now you’re expecting to get an income tax refund. A lot of people, including financial professionals and personal finance bloggers, may tell you it’s not wise to receive a refund.

Well, I’ll tell you they’re probably right in most cases. Just remember that you’re loaning your money to the government interest free. In other words, you’re investing with a 0% return. But don’t be discouraged if that was your situation this past year!

The important thing to do now is to establish a good plan for managing your tax refund. Look at this as an opportunity to manage the refund money wisely and make headway towards some important financial goals.

I don’t want you to look and up realize your tax refund is gone within a week, and without a plan, it just might happen. It would be foolish to take the money and spend it all, so it’s critical you avoid buying on impulse and letting it dwindle away!

Perhaps you’ve heard of the 80-10-10 approach to managing money. 80% is typically used for living expenses and spending, 10% is used for giving and the other 10% is used for saving. Consider a similar approach for your income tax refund (with some modifications).

1. Get out of Debt; 2; Save Some; 3. Spend Some; 4. Give Some

Basically, this approach allows you to use a portion to get out of debt (if you’re in debt), save some money towards emergencies, enjoy some free spending (or purchase things you need) and give some. The idea is to use your tax refund money across all of these areas.

A note on giving: The approach assumes you’ve tithed or given throughout the year based on your gross or pretax income. If so, you don’t need to tithe on this money again. If you haven’t done so, I recommend you make giving your top priority.

1. Get out of Debt

It’s certainly your decision, but if more than 5% of your take home pay (not including the mortgage) is debt, I would lean towards putting 70-80% of the refund towards this particular goal.

Depending on the size of your refund you might be able to pay off one of your smallest debts completely! You might even have an opportunity to become debt free if you don’t have much debt to tackle.

2. Save Some

Make sure you’re saving some money. Use 10% as a guide here. However, if you don’t have at least $1000 in your emergency fund, you should seriously consider funding this initial savings before paying off any debt.

What are some savings ideas? Beyond funding your emergency savings, one of the biggest expenses every year for families is Christmas. This is a great opportunity to begin saving towards this goal (or funding it). Or, perhaps you need a vacation or to save to replace some necessary items such as tires on the car or home repairs? Why not contribute savings for these areas to a freedom savings account?

3. Spend some

Consider using another 10% for spending money. Yes, it’s okay to have some blow money, or fun money to take to the mall. And by blow money, I mean its actually okay to use it on some impulsive purchases as long as you stay within the amount allocated for that purpose.

What are some spending ideas? This area typically includes the things you want. You could buy a new book, get a new computer, or if you’re a blogger, you could purchase a new theme for your website! Obviously, it all depends on the size of the tax refund, but have some fun here.

4. Give some

Finally, you may be led to give more than you already have this year. Depending on your thoughts and feelings here, this could shift all of your allocation decisions across each area. If you’re a Christian, consider where you should give. I think a good approach is to give first to our local church and to those who are directly responsible for ministering and teaching us. Then, you might choose to contribute to a Christian ministry to further kingdom work.

Final thoughts

I think the most important thoughts I can leave you with is where we started. Don’t let your tax refund go to waste and make sure you don’t spend it before you’ve receive it! You may be getting a tax refund this year, but use it as an opportunity to accomplish some important financial goals and to also allow yourself some fun. But keep in mind, a tax refund shouldn’t be a free pass to go do whatever you want (blow it) with the money. Remember, it’s still our responsibility to manage it wisely.

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