Conventional wisdom calls for using your tax refund to pay down debt and boost savings.
And certainly, anyone swimming in debt or without emergency savings would likely be better off if they used the cash for those goals. But financial advisers say some people might benefit from spending at least part of their windfall, especially if they feel like they’re on the right track when it comes to savings and if they have no debt.
“It’s not an all or nothing proposition,” says Karen Carr, a financial planner with the Society of Grownups, a financial company that targets millennials. “You don’t have to blow it at a bar, but you also don’t have to do only the responsible thing.”
For many taxpayers, the tax refund is the largest check they’ll see all year. And at an average $2,800, some people might find the check can be large enough for them to make progress toward more than one goal.
Using part of your tax refund to treat yourself could also make it easier to stick with saving habits throughout the year, Carr says. But you also want to make sure the purchase will have long-lasting benefits, she adds.
Here are some ideas from advisers and other money experts for smart ways to splurge with your tax refund:
Go on vacation. Rather than splurge on a new television or a pricey pair of shoes, it might make sense to spend money on an experience that can have more lasting psychological benefits, Carr says. For instance, one study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that after making a purchase, people found more value in experiences than in material things. The tip also matches a recent shift in consumer spending — shoppers are spending more of their money on dinners out, vacations and concert tickets, and cutting back on how much they spend buying material things in stores. With gas prices falling across the country, road trips are looking especially affordable, says Benjamin Glaser, features editor for DealNews.com.
Upgrade your ride. A $3,000 tax refund may help to cover a 10 percent down payment for a $30,000 car and will go even further for a car that’s less expensive. Low interest rates are also leading to good deals for people looking to finance a new or used car. While some car buyers are choosing to put zero money down, offering a substantial down payment can reduce the monthly payment needed to finance a car and lower interest charges. Buying an electric car or a hybrid car can also lead to a tax credit of up to $7,500. Keep in mind though that the credit only applies for new cars and that not all electric cars will qualify.
Tackle home-buying fees. Some economists had expected rates to rise after the Federal Reserve increased short-term rates in December, but the average fixed rate for a 30-year mortgage has actually fallen to 3.62 percent, the lowest level in a year. Those low rates have made it affordable for first-time homebuyers and others to invest in real estate, advisers say. While a tax refund isn’t typically enough cash to cover a complete down payment for a home, people who are far along in the process can use the money to cover some of the expenses they’ll face as homeowners. For instance, a tax refund can cover a portion of a buyer’s closing costs or it could be added to the emergency fund needed to help pay for home repairs that may come up later on, says Robert Steen, director of retirement advice and estate planning for USAA.
Replace important furniture. If some of the staple items in your life are starting to wear down, it may be a good use of your refund to replace some of those belongings. Think about where you spend the majority of your time, says Glaser. That could include your bed, your home office or your gym. If your mattress has been causing you back pains, you can think about using part or all of your refund to buy a new one, he said. Other people who often work from home but don’t have a comfortable setup might want to finally invest in an office chair or a desk. And some people might want to buy basic workout equipment, such as weights, that may only need to be purchased once, Glaser argues. It may also be smart to buy other equipment, such as a treadmill or elliptical machine, which need to be replaced every 12 years on average, according to DealNews.com.
Invest in your side gig. Some people who have been wanting to strike out on their own but need more money may think about using their tax refund to invest in a business, says Steen. The cash could cover startup costs such as equipment, incorporation fees or a domain name for a website. The move may make sense for boomers looking to switch over to freelance work or to start their own companies. Starting a business could lead to further tax breaks, since many business expenses are deductible. Capital expenses, which can include assets and start-up costs, generally need to be deducted over time.
How are you using your tax refund? Share your plans in the comments below.