This Is the Average Tax Refund This Season — and How You Can Put It to Great Use

Not everyone who files taxes ends up with a refund. But this year, the average tax refund is $3,011.

As a caveat, that number could change as more tax returns roll in (keeping in mind that not everyone submits a return by the April 15 filing deadline). But either way, the refund you get might constitute a nice chunk of money. And if so, it’s important to put it to good use. Here are some options to consider.

1. Build a financial safety net

If you don’t have enough money in savings to cover at least three months of essential expenses, then the most important thing to do with your tax refund is use it to pad your emergency fund. You never know when you might lose your job or encounter a large bill, like a home repair, that your paycheck can’t cover on its own.

Read more: we researched free tax software and put together a list of the best options here

Also, having a solid emergency fund could help you avoid debt in the event of an unexpected bill. And that could result in added savings.

Let’s say you need to make a $3,000 home repair you don’t have the cash for. If you’re forced to put it on a credit card charging 20% interest and it takes you a year to pay off your balance, you’ll spend an extra $335. Pay cash for that repair (or put it on your credit card for the points but pay the balance in full), and you can keep that money for yourself.

2. Pay off existing credit card debt

We just saw how costly a credit card balance can be. So if you have lingering credit card debt from the holidays or credit card debt in general, it’s a good bet to use your refund to pay it off.

If you owe money on multiple cards, use your refund to pay down the balance with the highest interest rate attached to it, and then work your way downward from there to cards with lower interest rates. You may also decide to consolidate your credit card balance into a personal loan and then use your refund to pay down its principal more quickly.

3. Invest in your career

A lower-paying job could make it difficult for you to get ahead financially and meet other long-term goals, like being able to retire comfortably. Now, it could be a good idea to use your tax refund to fund a retirement plan like an IRA. But if there’s a course you can take or a certification you can obtain that will set you up for considerably higher pay, then you may want to forgo that IRA contribution and instead invest in your career and earnings potential.

Let’s say you spend the money on continuing education and get a job paying $5,000 more by next year. From there, you might have the ability to fund an IRA every year, and do other things that lend to financial stability.

4. Invest in your quality of life

There’s nothing wrong with spending money to make your life easier or better. Maybe you can’t stand your slow-as-molasses clothes dryer that takes forever to run and inevitably still leaves its contents damp, forcing you to repeat the process after a long, tiring day of work. In that case, it’s perfectly reasonable to spend your tax refund on a new dryer.

What’s more, let’s say you work from home and have been having back pain due to not-so-great office furniture. It absolutely pays to use your refund to buy a chair with more support, and other features that lead to more physical comfort.

It’s important to use your tax refund mindfully rather than just blow it on a whim. All of the above items are worth considering once your money comes in from the IRS. But if there’s another important item on your agenda, you may decide to go a different route. And as long as you’ve thought things through, you may end up happy with your decision.

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