Web Wealth: Don't spend that tax refund unwisely

"Where's My Refund?" at www.irs.gov offers guidance.
"Where's My Refund?" at www.irs.gov offers guidance.
Posted: April 21, 2014

Last-minute tax filers who were due money back from the Internal Revenue Service are just getting, or still awaiting, their refunds. Here are ways to decide what to do with the cash.

Kiplinger.com says refunds, which average around $3,000, should go "to bolster your personal balance sheet." First, consider giving yourself a raise, this post suggests, "by adjusting your tax withholding to increase your take-home pay." More immediately, use the money you got back from the IRS to pay off credit-card debt, or set it aside for an emergency fund, or boost a savings, retirement, or college account. And if all your financial bases are covered, Kiplinger says, consider making a charitable contribution. After all, it'll be tax deductible.

"Save it, spend it, or use it to pay off debt," the Motley Fool investor-advice site says of a tax refund, which may be the biggest financial windfall most people see in a year. On the idea of spending, writer Sally Herigstad says, "Sometimes spending money pays you back in the long run. You could make some smart weatherization improvements to your home, for example, and get an impressive return on your money. You'll feel less drafty next winter, too. Or you could invest in your small business, or in learning to be a better investor." Do not use a big refund check as leverage to increase your debt, she writes. "Believe it or not, that's what some people do with a windfall. They head right down to the nearest pickup dealer and make a down payment on a $30,000 truck. It's called 'how to go broke by getting money in the mail.' "

If you are eagerly awaiting a refund - or think you've already waited too long - check this IRS frequently asked questions page that could help you cool your jets and determine when you're payment ought to arrive. The IRS cautions against taking steps to spend your refund before you get it. After all, it says with a bureaucratic chill, "many different factors can affect the timing of your refund after we receive it for processing."

Find the "Where's my refund" page here, where the IRS says you can see an update. If you were a last-minute filer and used a mail-in return, it may yet be weeks before you can.

"Tax hacks," from MoneyTalksNews, provided this video on the best and worst uses for a refund. "At least try not to do something dumb with your refund," CPA Stacy Johnson says. Dumb includes making a down payment on a car, lending the money to someone, and "frittering" it away on luxuries you wouldn't otherwise think you can afford. After all, Johnson says, "This isn't free money; you worked hard for it."


rkanaley@phillynews.com

215-854-5114 @ReidKan

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