Balancing act: 15 ideas for what to do with your tax refund

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

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Happy tax week!

You last-minute filers have probably felt a little stressed the last few days as you gathered documents, pored over forms and double-checked facts and figures.

I bet your work/life balance has been nonexistent. When you haven't been at work, you've been holed up in an office at home, growling at the occasional passing spouse or child, cursing the existence of a certain three-letter government agency.

However, as it does every year, this pain shall pass. (For me, it was over in February, when we filed our family's tax return.) And once it does, many of you will start dreaming about what to do with the refund that will soon drop into your mailbox (or, more likely, directly into your bank account).

Most of us have no problem coming up with ways to spend money. But if you want to be a little more thoughtful about it this year, a recent press release I received offers some good advice.

The email came from Bill Losey, CFP and president of Bill Losey Retirement Solutions LLC, an independent fee-based investment advisory firm in New York.

Losey wrote that, in the last two years, federal tax refunds have averaged about $3,000. That's a fair amount of cash, and you definitely shouldn't spend it all on candy.

Here are Losey's 15 tips for what to do with your refund money:

— "Start (or add to) an emergency fund." It's always a good idea to set a little money aside for a rainy day.

— "Invest in yourself." Losey suggests using some of your refund for education, career training or personal improvement of some kind.

— "Put it into an IRA or workplace retirement account." After all, who knows what the future holds for Social Security?

— "Help your child open up a Roth IRA."

— "Pay down debt." This is a great plan, and it's something my wife and I have done with our tax refund in years past.

— "Establish a financial strategy." Losey suggests working with a financial adviser for this. Yes, I know, he is a financial adviser, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

— "Pay for that trip in advance. Instead of racking up a bigger credit card bill, consider pre-paying some costs or taking an all-inclusive trip."

— "Get your home ready for market." Spruce up the interior or exterior of your house.

— "Improve your home with energy-saving appliances." Spend money now to save money later.

— "Create your own food bank." Many Utahns already have food storage, but some struggle to find the money to build it up when they're living paycheck-to-paycheck. Here's a chance to change that.

— "Write a proper will. Your refund could pay the attorney fee, and the will you create might end up more ironclad."

— "See a doctor, optometrist, dentist or physical therapist." Many people have put off such appointments during the past couple of years due to employment or insurance problems. If you can use some of your refund to improve your health, perhaps you should.

— "Give yourself a de facto raise. Adjust your withholding to boost your take-home pay."

— "Pick up some more insurance coverage for cheap." Losey suggests flood insurance, but with The Great Utah Shakeout drill at the top of our minds this week, earthquake insurance is another thing to consider.

— "Pay it forward." Giving some of your refund to a worthy charity is a great idea. And since that donation may be tax deductible, everybody wins.

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