For many, tax time can be a boon — sometimes big, sometimes small — to the bottom line.
That extra cash opens up a lot of choices for spending. Such as, vacations, a new car or some other luxury item coveted for a while.
Not so fast, financial experts say.
“Don’t get caught using your refund check any differently than you’d treat your weekly or monthly paycheck,” the experts from moneycrashers.com suggest. “Think about your personal financial situation, and determine your needs.”
That sounds far more practical than fun, but using a refund wisely is a great way to set up a better financial future, TurboTax Intuit advisers say.
“Saving money is kind of like eating a health diet,” they say. “You know you should do more of it, but it’s hard to resist making a spur of the moment choices that make you happier now, but worse off later.”
There’s broad agreement among financial pros about ways to make those refund checks work for consumers. Those include sending it straight to a saving account, paying off high interest debt, starting or growing an emergency fund, adding to or starting a retirement fund, dropping it into a college fund for kids, or donating to charity.
It’s also OK to have little fun by purchasing something needed or having put off for a while because of its high cost: like car repairs, health care and anything else you might want or need.
“Just don’t blow it on a huge, unnecessary splurge,” experts at moneycrasher.com advise.
Consumers who struggle with deciding on how best to use their refund might consider taking their financial transactions online. Use one of the myriad of mobile money apps that have have flooded the market in recent years, Forbes Financial Council advisers say.
By design, the apps are developed to help make planning for the financial future less daunting, experts from the Council say. They can help with investing, debt payoff or savings accounts, often with an automatic withdrawal from a checking account.
With so many options available it can be a bit confusing and difficult to choose one to use.
Recommendations from friends or family can direct you to apps they’ve used with success, but Forbes recommends consulting with a professional financial adviser who can help make a wealth management plan that includes app use.
Salt Lake City-based journalist and podcaster Amy Donaldson doesn’t fit the typical “young and tech savvy” app user, but last fall she signed up with two — Acorns and Stash — just to see just how it works.
“I thought, you, know, what could it hurt to try,” Donaldson, who learned about the apps from a financial podcaster who was a guest on her show, is more than happy with the result.
Starting with just $5 per day, Donaldson bought slivers of stock from a small group of companies, including Apple, and watched her money start to grow. Within a few weeks, she upped her contributions to $80 per week into her Stash, by cutting out expenses like lunches out and coffee house treats.
Since August, she’s earned and saved about $3,000. Acorns, where she puts only her “round up” change from purchases has brought her about $300.
“It’s motivating,” she said.
One of the best things about the apps, Donaldson said, is that you can start small; there’s no requirement to have thousands of dollars in place before she can buy into an investment program. It also makes her feel more in control of money and she’s learned far more about investing than when she tried to learn from a wealth building class some years ago.
“I walked out of there and said ‘I’m handing this over to someone else,’” she said. “But this makes it all feel so much more accessible.”
She likes the apps so much she’s started an account for her young nephew, who is helping her make choices about what to buy or how much to save.
It’s also where she plans to deposit her 2018 tax return.
“Definitely,” she said.
Financial experts say that when choosing, consumers should look for an app that provides you with full picture of financial life. This, they say is the road to making better financial decisions. It’s also important to look for an app whose services align with your goals, whether saving for a big purchases like a home, or planning for retirement.
Among the top recommendations for apps from financial experts across the US are:
Acorns has both investing and savings features and it rounds up every purchase to the nearest dollar and automatically deposits the amount into your account. It also asks questions about your income and risk tolerance to help you choose the right investments.
Fees: $1 per month for balances under $5,000 or a 25 percent annual fee if the balance is more.
With a focus on money management, Stash allows for automatic checking account withdrawal for investments, savings and retirement accounts. It also has a user-friendly dashboard and learning resources to help make better money management choices.
Mint offers a complete look at how consumers are spending their money, something many of us don’t really know. Understanding where the money goes, allows consumer to improve long term planning. Mint is also great for help consumers pay down debt.
Betterment also allows consumers to get a full picture of their finances. It lets consumers link all financial accounts, from checking accounts, to investments and debts to calculate net worth in real time. A proprietary “roboadviser” also automatically shifts to improve your stock portfolio when needed.