7 Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund That You Should Avoid

And What to Do With the Money Instead

Couple smiling as they pay for their purchase using a portion of their tax return in a store
••• Dan Dalton / Getty Images

When you get a large tax refund, it can be tempting to splurge on something big and fun, like a Caribbean vacation. However, a large tax refund is actually a great chance to improve your current financial situation, and splurging on a luxurious vacation could squander that opportunity.

Here are seven ways to spend your tax-refund money that you should avoid—and what to do with that money instead.

Unneeded Material Things

When you have a large sum of money coming in, it can be tempting and splurge on a television, gaming system, or clothing, but these items aren't a good investment. They don't have a lasting positive financial impact. Putting it simply, splurging this way is effectively blowing a lot of money on material items that won't improve your financial situation. The items will depreciate over time, you won't earn money from them, and you'll likely have to replace them a few years down the road.

It's wiser to spend money on items that you truly need or will help you save money in the long run. For example, you could buy a coffee or espresso maker to replace your daily trip to the coffee shop, or you could buy a bike to save on work commute costs.

Casinos

You may be tempted to take your tax return to your local casino. Since it's money that you didn't expect to have, it can be easy to justify gambling with it for the chance to win even more money.

From a financial standpoint, this is a terrible idea because gambling has no guaranteed rate of return. In fact, the odds are heavily stacked against you. You'd be better off putting that money in the stock market. It'll still give you the thrill of the unknown, but, depending on what you invest in, you could have much better odds of receiving a return.

Not all stock market investments are good investments. No investment offers guaranteed returns, and bad investments can almost certainly lose your money. If you're a beginning investor, it may be best to start out by researching index funds, blue-chip stocks, and bonds.

Checking Account Deposit (If the Refund Is a Surplus)

If you're lucky enough to have your bills covered and your tax refund is a surplus you don't need to use, avoid putting the refund money in your checking account. It becomes easier to justify the extra meal out or the quick shopping trip because you see that your account has plenty of cash.

Consider setting that money aside and earmark it for a specific purpose. If you're not sure what to do with the money yet, then put it in your savings account. You'll usually earn better interest, and you'll likely avoid spending the money because few savings accounts have debit cards.

A New Vehicle That Isn't a Necessary

It can be tempting to use your refund as a larger-than-usual down payment to help you purchase a car that you normally wouldn't be able to afford. If you need a car, look for one that you can afford to pay off in three years, and one you would've been able to afford without the tax refund windfall.

Purchasing a car that you need can offer a boost to your financial mobility, especially if you're looking for a job. Past studies have found that owning a car can, in some age groups and locations, increase your chances of finding a job by 20%-59%.

Refund Advance Loans

If you go to a tax preparation store or business, they may offer you a refund anticipation loan or a rapid refund option. These loans usually have interest rates and application fees.

When you file your taxes, you can file electronically and have the money directly deposited into your account. The IRS processes 90% of refunds in less than 21 days, and eight out of 10 taxpayers choose to have their money directly deposited into a bank account. Because these turnaround times can be quick, you may end up losing money just to get your money a little faster with a refund anticipation loan.

Paying Off Credit Cards You'll Max Out Again

It's a great idea to pay off your credit cards with your tax refund, but it won't help you if you then run up your credit card balances again in the following months. To help prevent that, put a portion of your refund away for an emergency fund before you pay off your debt.

Excessively Expensive Vacations

Planning a getaway with your tax refund isn't a bad idea, per se, but you don't have to choose the most expensive option or spend your entire refund. There are plenty of ways to save on travel, including using credit cards rewards to book flights and hotel rooms. By planning out a trip well ahead of time, you'll save money, have more time to research the best way to enjoy your time abroad, and be less likely to overspend.

Tips for Using Your Refund Wisely

When you get your tax refund, you need to make a plan for that money. This plan could mean that you put some toward your debt, build up your emergency fund, or save towards your child's college education.

If you put it in the bank, without a purpose, you will be surprised at how quickly that money can disappear. Take the time before you get your refund to determine the best way to spend it. Figure out if you need to catch up on your bills or if you have a specific goal, like saving for a down payment on a home.

Determine how you want to spend it and then shop around for the best price on the item you'd like to purchase. This price comparison will make the most of the money on whatever you decide to do with it.

In general, the key is to think carefully about how you'll spend the money long before you have it. Impulse purchases are rarely the best in the long-term, so instead, plan out your spending ahead of time in a more rational state of mind.

Take the Time to Adjust Your Withholdings

If you're getting a huge refund each year, it may be time to adjust your tax allowances. The IRS has a withholding calculator that you can use to determine the amount you should claim on your taxes. Check with your state to see if it has a similar calculator that you can use.

If you adjust your withholdings, you may have more money throughout the year to reach your other financial goals, such as buying a home or paying for your child's education.

Article Sources

  1. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. "FDIC Consumer News; Savings Are Great for Short-Term Goals Too." Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  2. Citizens Bank. "Can You Get a Debit Card for a Savings Account?" Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  3. Capital One. "Do I Get a Debit Card With My Savings Account?" Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  4. Government Accountability Office. "GSA Fleet: Information on the Effect of Donating Cars to YouthBuild USA and Potential Benefits to Rural YouthBuild Participants." Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Tax Refund Tips: Understanding Refund Advance Loans and Checks." Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  6. IRS. "What To Expect for Refunds This Year." Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  7. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "How To Use Your Tax Refund to Build Your Emergency Funds." Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.