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What Should I Do with My Tax Refund? (Updated Mar 2024) Thumbnail

What Should I Do with My Tax Refund? (Updated Mar 2024)

Investing Retirement Funding Insights

What Should I Do with My Tax Refund?

Topics: Financial Plan, Emergency Savings, Debt Reduction, Investments, Roth Conversion, Solo 401K

Updating a post from the Covid Era - hard to believe that was 4 years ago! Given the financial struggles some were enduring, I had just written a post about finding cash in a crisis (Covid-19 Update (Part 2): How Do I Manage/Find Cash in a Crisis?), which is still relevant. So maybe your tax refund can provide a timely buffer if your financial situation has been negatively affected by inflation or other recent events. If your income remains steady and your cash position is solid, you might be thinking about how to best use the dollars from your tax refund.

The amount may not even be that significant, but usually every bit helps. And don’t feel bad if you don’t get a refund and must pay taxes. That just means you didn’t give the government an interest free loan over the past year. If you find you owe a large tax amount or get a large refund, you might consider adjusting your tax withholding to even out your income. If you expect a hefty tax burden, look to save money before taxes with a 401K or other personal savings vehicle such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). If you anticipate a large refund and/or have a lower income year, you might consider a Roth conversion (more later).

While the question I pose in the title of this post is about a tax refund, it’s really more about what you could do if you had a sudden increase in income – a tax refund, a one-time bonus or inheritance. Or maybe you just won the lottery! The inclination is to spend such a windfall. Many people will find it easier to justify a one-time purchase or going on a trip or completing a project around the house with their new-found wealth. While these are certainly great ideas, you may also want to plan ahead - boring I know, but a plan can help make sure some of your new dollars are allotted to the future. Of course, that new patio or the bathroom remodel may ultimately increase the value of your house, which is beneficial for the long-term. Not to mention your personal enjoyment. I get it – it’s not always a financial decision!

So besides spending, what is the best use of your spare dollars? Here are 4 Thoughts:

  1. Create a Financial Plan
  2. Beef up emergency savings
  3. Invest it
  4. Reduce debt

Before we get into the details:

On a personal note

In spite of more kids, greater tax deductions and increased itemizing, we generally pay taxes this time of year, but have become okay with that as we try to manage withholdings. I can still try to reduce any taxable income by contributing to the Solo 401K I set up for myself. This is all part of a plan to strategically “manage my taxes”, not just pay blindly. In this low tax environment we have continued to roll over traditional IRA funds into a Roth IRA for several years now, which would ultimately reduce our refund (or increase taxes paid), but improve our tax situation long-term as Roth IRAs grow tax-free

So onto our 4 Thoughts:

Create a Financial Plan

This is ultimately an advertisement (like all my blog posts) to get your financial house in order, specifically invest in a Financial Plan. Also of note is that our Financial Planning services are included when we manage your portfolio as part of our Asset Management services. A Financial Plan can help determine the strategy for what to do with excess cash, which is why you might need a plan before proceeding down the items on this list (savings, debt, investments). We can evaluate your expenses to determine appropriate Emergency Savings levels, and then help optimize both your debt and your investments. We can even look at next year’s tax strategy if applicable.

Emergency Savings

This is a necessity in life. The statistics are abundant about Americans inability to come up with cash in an emergency. A recent survey suggested nearly 2 out of every 3 Americans would struggle to come up with even $500 in an emergency. Yikes! The rule of thumb is 3-6 months of all your expenses, so if you aren’t there, and you get a lump sum back from the government, I suggest building up your emergency reserves to avoid the next catastrophe.

Reduce Debt

As you may have guessed, this depends on what kind of debt. If you have high-interest credit card debt, start paying that off. That’s probably as important as building up your Emergency Savings. If credit card debt is ongoing, you should work to change your mindset around money. Sorry to be blunt. Sacrifice today for the future. Forgo instant gratification for the satisfaction of a comfortable and timely retirement.

However, if you’re close to paying off other forms of debt, like a car loan or student loans, then that can be an option as well. As for that primary mortgage, putting $1,000 toward a $100,000 mortgage balance does almost nothing. Especially if you have a low interest rate. Don’t forget your mortgage interest is deductible on your tax return. Student loan debt is as well but is limited in amount and to certain income levels.

Invest it

This is an extremely broad topic, but obviously a favorite of mine. You’re thinking about your future if you put new funds into a retirement account. Though you can’t put these funds directly into an employer’s 401K plan, it may give enough cushion to allow you to increase your 401K contribution rate and get a higher employer-match (which we note is a 100% return on investment). Putting into an IRA can provide similar tax benefits.

The ongoing stock market volatility has provided an opportunity to buy stock at a discount to recent highs, but there are many investment options, so look for the option that provides your best return. We should definitely talk about your best options!

So in summary, using spare dollars to create a Financial Plan will ultimately help you assure your savings rate is adequate, diversify your investments and optimize your debt. Now is a great time to formulate your Financial Plan – please send an email: matt@mhb-advisory.com.


Please check out more popular/related blog posts:

Why Should I Use a Financial Advisor for Asset Management?

How Can Effective Asset Management Help Me Reach Financial Independence?

Best (Most Read) MHB Advisory Blogs of 2019!


As well as other more recent posts:

What Should I Do with My Old 401K When I Change Jobs?

Why Is Diversification Important for Asset Management?

Covid-19 Update (Part 1): What Moves Can Enhance Asset Management Now?

Covid-19 Update (Part 2): How Do I Manage/Find Cash in a Crisis?


Or access my full list of blog posts.

If you or someone you know has any financial-related questions, I would love to have a conversation, so please feel free to reach out: matt@mhb-advisory.com.

Best wishes on your financial path!



This post was created by Matt Beeby, the Founder of MHB Advisory Services. Matt has been working in Financial Services and investing in real estate since 2005, though his investment experience spans nearly two decades. He is a Christ follower, active in both his church and his neighborhood association. Matt enjoys sports and family time. Read more about Matt on his website bio.


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  • Please consult tax or legal professionals for such advice and be sure to consult with a qualified financial advisor and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed.
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