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Getting a Tax Refund? Seven Budgeting Tips to Make It Count

Getting a tax refund may seem like free money, but it’s not. A tax refund is money you worked hard to earn last year and overpaid to the government. So, before you let it burn a hole in your pocket, think about putting it to better use.

Tips to maximize your tax refund and stay on budget

As opposed to splurging your refund, here are seven smart options to put your tax refund to better use — and help secure your financial future:

  1. To keep the money coming, think about next year’s return. Take advantage of Military OneSource MilTax, which provides free tax consultations and secure online tax preparation and filing – designed exclusively for the military community.
  2. Speak to a financial counselor. In addition to MilTax, Military OneSource provides access to financial counselors prepared to help service members and their families with general financial questions, from using a refund toward a down payment on a house to long-range financial planning. Call 800-342-9647.
  3. Pay down your highest-interest credit card debt. Take this opportunity to pay down your debt and lower the overall amount you end up paying your credit card company. Or make an extra car or mortgage payment, if there is no prepayment penalty, and enjoy 100 percent ownership of your house or your car one month earlier.
  4. Build up an emergency fund. An emergency fund is not your retirement nest egg. Set up a savings account designed to pay for unexpected expenses like a sudden car repair or appliance replacement. Start with a goal to save $500 or $1000 for emergencies, but aim to save three to six months’ worth of living expenses.
  5. Check your budget plan. This is a good time to check your budget and see if there are any holes you need to cover with your refund. Make sure you are designating a certain percentage of your income for retirement and potential college expenses like the Thrift Savings Plan or Roth Thrift Savings Plan.
  6. Donate to a charitable organization. Spread the benefit to a cause you hold dear. You can also claim a tax deduction when you file taxes next spring. But be sure to save the receipt.
  7. Invest in yourself. Have you always wanted to take a certification class, learn a new skill or earn a college degree? Consider using your refund to boost your skills.

After all, you might as well try and earn some interest on that money instead of just banking it at the Internal Revenue Service. Better yet, consider taking that extra money every paycheck and invest it directly into your retirement or college savings accounts.