In 2015 about 31% of Americans considered making a financial resolution, according to Fidelity. Most of them wanted to save more, the next most popular goal was to pay off debt and the remainder wanted to spend less.
I have a sneaky little trick for accomplishing resolutions like this: make a big, bold step as soon as possible. It gives you a great feeling of accomplishment and the confidence to reach your goal all year long.
When it comes to financial resolutions, a tax refund is a quick way to get started on the right path. It’s the largest single check many of us will get over the course of the year. Imagine what a big difference you can make in your debt or savings with it. Here are a few specific strategies you might want to try.
1. You probably know that the IRS offers the option to have your refund direct deposited into a bank account. In fact, 8 out of 10 taxpayers choose this option. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be a checking account. Direct deposit that check straight into savings and make it a little bit harder to spend. If that’s not feasible, consider only depositing a portion of the refund into your checking account and sending the rest to savings.
2. Purchase U.S. Series I Savings Bonds with all or part of your refund (up to $5,000). The bonds don’t earn a huge amount of interest – about 1.5% – but it’s a great way to make sure your money is saved and earning a little bit.
3. Fund an IRA. You can set up a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA before December 31 and invest in it until April 18, 2015 to have the contribution credited to the 2015 tax year. Alternatively, you can set it up anytime and have the funds credited in the 2016 tax year. An IRA is a great retirement savings option. Read more about IRA investments and other end-of-year tax strategies.
4. Start a college savings account for your child. If you feel like your finances are pretty well covered, maybe it’s a good idea to use your refund to start your child off on the right foot. There are also tax benefits associated with plans like a 529 or Coverdell Savings Account. Read more about qualified tuition plans.
Pay down debt
5. The average household with credit card debt owes $16,140, with average interest rates around 13-15%. Even if you can’t pay off your credit card debt in full, putting a sizeable refund toward it will help you incur less interest and will help you get a headstart on paying it all off.
6. Pay off a student loan or car loan. Or make additional payments if you can’t pay it off entirely. Interest rates on a car loan tend to be 4-5.5%. Student loan interest rates have a wide variance, depending on the lender. Making a couple extra payments on a car loan or student loan will help you pay down larger portions of interest and pay off the entire balance sooner. If you can put your full refund toward the debt and completely erase it, that’s even better!
7. Make extra payments on your mortgage. While there’s no rush to completely pay off a home, making one or two extra payments can mean that you accrue less interest over time.
OK, most of these require spending a little more upfront to get long-term savings, but you get the point!
8. Make energy efficient upgrades to your home. Are your heating bills skyrocketing? Maybe you need to replace your windows and doors or upgrade your insulation. Investing your refund into home fixes like this that will save you money on utilities bills for years to come can be a smart move. What’s more, certain purchases may alsoqualify for tax credits.
9. Take care of any medical or dental work you’ve been putting off. Chances are, the longer you wait, the more likely your situation could become emergent – and expensive. Spend that refund on preventative care now. If you have enough medical and dental expenses in the year – more than 10% of your AGI – you could claim a medical deduction at tax time.
10. Invest in yourself! Maybe it’s going back to school, taking a continuing education course or spending some of the refund on professional conferences or networking events. By investing in yourself and your future, you are potentially starting down a path to earning more and improving your financial situation.