Published on 04/11/17

Maximizing your tax refund

By Keishon Thomas

Taxes — just the word brings a little shudder to most of us, including me. Whether gathering the appropriate documents or actually filing by April 18, we’ve all heard that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Yikes!

Most of us seem to dread tax time, but we’re also hoping to make the most of our tax refunds. It’s almost like a bonus when you get back something unexpected. The question at tax time is always, “Did I do enough to ensure I get something back or at least to ensure I don’t owe an arm and a leg?”

According to the latest IRS data, nearly eight out of every 10 Americans will receive a tax refund. If you get a return, be sure to use your return wisely so that your money continues to work for you. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension experts suggest using these smart strategies to help you maximize your refund.

Use your tax return to catch up on bills. If you have outstanding bills or bills past due that are accruing interest and late fees, put your return toward these first.

Assess your overall debt and credit situation. Who are your creditors? If you have multiple accounts to choose from, begin paying the one with the highest interest rate to save the most money in the end.

Maybe you are OK from a debt or credit standpoint, but your rainy day savings is not where you would like it to be. You can use your refund to create or increase your emergency savings. When the tire goes flat, the car battery needs replacing or the washing machine breaks, money in an emergency account will let you pay for these expenses without adding to your debt load.  

Invest in your retirement. I cannot stress enough the importance of ensuring your golden years are great years. Opening an individual retirement account (IRA) or making extra contributions to an existing retirement fund is an excellent use of tax returns.

Invest in your home. Tax returns can be used as a down payment for a potential home or to pay an extra mortgage payment for your current home. Making an extra mortgage payment or two per year on the principal provides huge savings on interest and decreases the principal amount of your loan.

It’s also a great time for home improvements or, as I like to call it, tackling the “honey-do list.” For example, adding a new roof, an energy-efficient window or door, hot water heater or even a new room are all considered improvements, as is landscaping. All of them add to the overall value of your home.

Don’t forget to share. Donate a portion of your tax refund to the charitable organization of your choice. You’ll improve the lives of others, and your charitable gift may reduce next year’s tax burden.

Finally, splurge a little to reward yourself. If you’re like me, rewarding yourself is no problem. After completing a major task or achieving a goal — making your return work for you in this instance — make a pleasure purchase, like a new television, a family vacation or a new spring dress.  

Keishon Thomas is the University of Georgia Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County.

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