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6 Financially Savvy Ways to Use Your Federal Tax Refund

January 7, 2017

The tax season is soon approaching, and if the federal tax refund figures are similar to 2016, over 100 million U.S. residents could see a tax refund! In fact, according to the IRS’s figures compiled after the late filing deadline in October 2016, the average total refund was $2,777 — a 1.8% increase from 2015. We have our fingers crossed that those amounts keep rising! If you are lucky enough to receive a tax refund, there are undoubtedly some exciting ways to use it — vacations, shopping sprees, and more. However, you may want to explore more financially prudent avenues to put your tax refund dollars to work. To help guide you, here are our top 6 financially responsible ways to use your tax refund dollars:

  1. Make a Larger Payment on Your Student Loans or Other Debt

Use your extra funds to pay off or pay down any outstanding student loans or other debts like credit cards, car loans, or home mortgages. Doing so can reduce the total amount of interest you pay over the life of your loan(s). For the most effective repayment plan, focus your efforts on the loan(s) with the highest interest rates. However, before you start committing extra funds to one particular loan, find out if you can refinance and consolidate any of them — such as student loans and home mortgages – into a new loan package that offers more favorable rates. If you do this ahead of time, you will know exactly which loan(s) will continue to have the highest interest rate(s) and where to focus your extra tax refund dollars.

  1. Create a Savings Account/Emergency Fund

Most financial experts suggest saving at least six months’ worth of your monthly expenses as an emergency fund. For example, if you need $4,000 a month to pay for your living expense bills and to buy food, then you will need to have at least $24,000 in your savings account. These funds can come in handy during a period of unemployment or other financially challenging moments in life. If that amount seems too far out of reach, start with a modest initial emergency savings goal of $1,000, which should cover many basic car or home repair costs and help you avoid accumulating additional debt. You can read more about budgeting strategies and percentages on Investopedia. Need more help creating a budget? Check out our blog, “Creating a Monthly Budget,” as well as other related topics on the Education Loan Finance blog.

  1. Set Up a Retirement Account

Next, consider saving for your future — that is, your retirement account. Creating a Roth account, whether it is a traditional or Roth IRA, contributing to a 401(k), or setting aside funds in some other retirement plan is a great way to ensure that you will be financially comfortable later in life. Most financial experts suggest setting aside 20 percent of your income towards your retirement.

  1. Start Investing

If you already have a great plan in place for savings, retirement, and financial emergencies, then you might want to consider using your tax refund dollars for other financial goals, like investments. That way you can earn additional income that ideally earns more than your savings account. Want some investing tips? Try starting with these financial gurus.

  1. Donate to a Charity

Charitable giving is a great way to use your federal tax refund dollars in a profound way. The financially savvy benefit? If you play your cards right and make a tax-deductible donation to an eligible organization, you may be able to write off your charitable contribution on your tax returns. Not only could you help increase the amount of your tax refund, but you will likely feel great about giving to a deserving cause. 

  1. Invest in Yourself

We call this worthy section a personal investment in yourself because rather than going on a shopping spree, it is a great idea to consider using your federal tax refund money for personal growth. Take a class in something you are passionate about. Travel somewhere that will supplement your life, your career, your self-employed business, your craft, or your trade. Furthermore, if you really just need a re-energizing vacation, and your personal finances are in great shape, go for it!  

There you have it: our top 6 financially savvy ways to use your tax refund dollars. We hope that your tax refund is just what you expect it to be — and possibly more! That way, you can use your extra funds to help get the new year off to a great start or to supplement a financially stable future. For more great tips on finances and using your tax refund dollars, visit Mint’s “10 Smart Ways to Use Your Tax Refund” and the Education Loan Finance blog.

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2019-06-12
Should You Pay Off Student Loans Immediately or Over Time?

When you start your post-college career, you may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. Before you do that, you have important decisions to make. You’ll have to stretch your paycheck to cover your new lifestyle and associated expenses: a furnished home or apartment, vehicle, insurance, and hopefully a 401K contribution. If you are like 70% of college graduates, you also have student loans that need to be repaid.   In most situations, it's going to be most beneficial to pay off your loans as quickly as possible so that you are paying less towards interest. The average college graduate's starting salary, however often cannot allow for enough additional income to cover more than the regularly scheduled student loan payments.  Most student loans have a six-month grace period so you can do some budgeting and planning first - if you need to. We don't suggest using the grace period unless you find it necessary to organize your finances. During a deferment such as a grace period, the interest could still be accruing depending on the type of loan that you have.   If you determine that you may be better off establishing sound financial footing and a workable monthly budget before you begin repaying those daunting loans. Keep these tips in mind as you formulate a strategy for debt payoff.  

Student Loans Have Advantages

Varying types of debt are governed by different laws and regulations. Banks often base interest rates for consumer credit loans on your established credit rating. Interest rates for auto loans or credit card debt tend to be higher than a mortgage or student loan interest. As you review your debt load and make a plan, remember: student loan debt comes with a few "advantages" that other types of debt don’t offer.  
  • Preferential tax treatment: With a new job, you will be paying taxes on your income. Student loan interest is deductible up to $2,500 and can be deducted from pre-tax income.
  • Lower interest rates & perks: Federal student loans have lower interest rates and are sometimes subsidized by the government.
  • Lender incentives: Private student loans may come with incentives from the lender that make them a better deal than other credit types. These include fee waivers, lower interest rates, and deferment options.
  • Flexible payment plans: Options for lower payments and longer terms are available for both federal and private student debt.
  • Build your credit score: You can build your credit score with student loan debt. Now, depending on whether you’re making on-time payments or not, you could negatively or positively affect your credit. If you chose to make small payments during deferments, or a grace period, and regular on-time payments you will be more likely to establish a favorable credit record and reduce the amount of interest you pay overall.
 

Programs to Help You With Student Loan Payments

There are few options for loan forgiveness with regular debt, but student loans offer opportunities to reduce or eliminate your debt. These may come with commitments and tax implications, so be sure you fully understand them if you decide to take advantage of these programs.  
  • Loan forgiveness: Federal student loans may be forgiven, but you'll want to be sure that you're following all of the requirements needed of the program. Be sure before choosing this option that the federal loans you have qualify for the program. Also, keep in mind there could be taxes due on the amount that is forgiven. Some student loan forgiveness programs include PAYE (Pay as You Earn) and REPAYE (Revised Pay as You Earn), Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
  • Loan Consolidation: Multiple student loans can be consolidated into one payment with the interest rate determined by a weighted average of your current loans - interest rates. Combining multiple loans may be easier to manage on a modest starting salary. Consolidating federal loans usually doesn’t require a good credit score, either.
  • Refinance, and you could achieve a lower interest rate: Lenders like Education Loan Finance specialize in student loan refinancing, and have options like variable interest rates and flexible terms. Refinancing your debt could make student loan debt easier to manage than other types of credit.
 

Pay Off High-Interest Debt First

Before you decide to pay off your student loans, think about the financial obligations you’ll be taking on. Instead of carrying a credit card balance or making low payments for an auto loan, it makes sense to continue your low student loan payments and pay off more expensive debt first or debt with a higher interest rate. In the long run, you’ll save money and build your credit score.   If you still have doubts about not paying off student debt first, consult a professional financial advisor for help prioritizing your goals and setting up a budget that lets you achieve them.  

Click Here to Learn More About Student Loan Repayment

   
2019-06-07
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Get a Graduate Degree?

The most recent data from the Digest of Education Statistics show that over 54% of those completing graduate studies take on student loans, and the average loan amount for grad school is over $70,000. With so much at stake, isn’t it worth a serious analysis of the value?  

Develop a Decision Matrix to Help You Decide

A decision matrix is an analytical tool that helps you compare different factors when making a choice. If you are about to take on more student debt to continue your education, a personal decision matrix that weighs the following questions can help you clarify your values and decide what makes both personal and financial sense.  
  • Why do you want a graduate degree? Motivation is a complex process, and you may not know what is driving you to continue your education. A little self-analysis is in order. Do you think graduate work will elevate your prestige, make you an industry authority, or help you find a more challenging job? Or are you afraid of leaving your college comfort zone and entering the workforce?
 
  • Do the jobs in your field of study match your talents and disposition? Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment or enjoy working with the public? Perhaps a predictable or solitary workplace suits you more. If you’ve never been employed in your chosen field, it might be wise to work for a while after completing your bachelor’s degree. You’ll get a better understanding of employment opportunities and personal satisfaction levels before investing more time and money toward an advanced degree. Working before pursuing a graduate program has two other distinct advantages:
 
  1. You can make progress toward paying off undergrad student loans.
  2. You will have time to solidify your life and career goals.
 
  • Will a graduate degree improve your employment and earning potential? Before committing to graduate school, do your research. Monitor the job market on sites like Indeed, Monster or Study job requirements, salaries, and the number of job openings. Talk to individuals in your field—both those with graduate degrees and those with four-year degrees. Will an advanced degree make enough difference in job availability, career stability, and earning potential to offset the time and money required to obtain it?
 
  • Are there alternatives for enhancing your employment value? Explore professional or specialized certifications that could make you more valuable to an employer. Obtaining certificates is usually less expensive than continuing with graduate studies, and added training indicates to employers that you take the initiative and possess advanced skills.
 
  • How will you pay for your advanced degree? If you already have student loans, adding more debt for graduate school could further delay your ability to achieve many financial milestones: marriage, purchasing a home, traveling, or starting a family. Often, grad school loans come with a higher interest rate and greater accumulated balance than undergraduate loans. You’ll need to determine whether the added earning potential of an advanced degree justifies the payments and payback period. It may also be worthwhile to explore alternatives like part-time studies and employer educational benefits to lessen the student loan burden.
 

Refinance Student Debt in Three Easy Steps With ELFI

You’ve graduated with a college degree and increased your earning power. Now, get the most for your money by refinancing your student loans with Education Loan Finance. Our competitive interest rates, personalized service, and nationwide availability give you the power to manage your debt and achieve your goals. With ELFI, you could be just three steps away from a brighter future!  

Click Here to Learn More About Refinancing Student Loans

    NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – The bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
2019-06-03
How to Build Your Child’s Credit Score When They Don’t Have One Yet

From the 2007 Housing Crisis, 2008 Stock Market Crash, and now the student debt crisis there is no surprise parents nationwide are looking to educate and protect their children on finances. Many people during these national events lacked basic financial know-how and self-discipline. Gen-Xers and millennials, starting to have children of their own, worry that a new generation could be seduced by the allure of instant gratification and the digital disconnect between earning and spending money. What as a parent can you do for a young child to teach them finances and help them learn the basics? Here are some basic tips to help your children build healthy credit and learn to use it responsibly.  

Start With Basic Financial Life Lessons

Whether your child is 2 or 22, financial education is the key to building good credit and financial independence. Erin Lowry, business blogger and author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, explained in a recent podcast that her parents taught her about delayed gratification early in life. “I was really encouraged from a very young age to start making money, especially if I wanted something," Lowry said.   Saving for discretionary purchases is a lesson many young children can miss. A growing number of young adults also don’t have realistic expectations of their future earning power. Lowry grew up in a different reality. She explains that her first successful enterprise was at age 7, selling doughnuts at a family garage sale. Before she could feel too excited about her earnings, her father adjusted the amount she made by taking out the cost of the doughnuts and wages for her sister. He explained that the money left was her profit. “He actually took the money," she remembers. "That is something that has stuck with me forever."   It’s never too late to teach lessons like these. Resources for financial education are abundant in print and online, and parents can refer adult children to Lowry’s book and her blog, brokemillennial.com. For younger children, check out this post by Dave Baldwin, “The Five Best Apps for Teaching Kids How to Manage Their Money.”  

Three Tips for Establishing Good Credit for Your Children

Parents with good credit and a clear vision of their children’s financial future can take these three actions to ensure a sound credit score for children reaching adulthood.  

TIP 1: Make your child an authorized credit card user.

There is no minimum age to most credit cards, so you can add your child as an authorized user as early as you like. The best part is you do not have to give the child access to the card, just keep it in a safe place. It’s imperative that you use the credit card wisely and are able to pay the minimum monthly balance on the card. If you are unable to make payments on the card that could negatively affect your child’s credit history too. Try to only use the card for reoccurring balances like gas or food shopping.   When your child comes of age to have their first credit card in adulthood, they will benefit from your history of timely payments and reasonable use of credit. It will also benefit them if they need a loan to attend college and you as a parent may not need to be a cosigner.  

TIP 2: Add a FREE credit freeze to your child’s credit report until they reach age 18.

Contact each of the three reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to request a freeze in your child’s name. In some states, the freeze may need to be renewed every seven years. A credit freeze is fairly simple to implement and will protect your child from identity theft, which in turn will protect their credit history and credit score. You can also lift credit freezes when your child is ready to apply for credit.   It may seem like an extreme to put a credit freeze on your two months old credit but it will only protect them in the long run. Identity theft to children is an unfortunate reality in the United States. According to CNBC, more than 1 million minors were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017. What may be even more surprising is that data breaches are just as much a problem for minors as for adults, if not more. According to CNBC, only 19% of adults were fraud victims compared to a staggering 39% of minors due to data breaches. This can happen to your child, but it can be prevented. You have the power to protect your children from falling victim to fraud. Not to mention a credit freeze is free thanks to recent laws passed by the federal government, so it won’t even cost you or your family a dime.   To learn more about protecting your child’s credit and preventing identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information site.  

TIP 3: Set up a secure credit card account for your child to use.

A secure credit card is similar to an unsecured or the “normal” type of credit card. The only major difference is that a deposit is used to open a secured credit card account. The amount of secured credit card deposit is usually the credit limit of that secured credit card. Now, as long as all payments are made on time and in full at the end of the designated period you’ll receive your deposit back. Additionally, that fact that all payments were made on time and in full means that you should see that reflected in your credit report and you may even see that reflected in your credit score. If your child fails to make on-time payments or fails to pay the full amount of the card this could hurt your child’s credit instead of helping it.   If you choose to give your teenager a secured credit card you should be certain that you discuss the responsibilities of card with them. Make sure your child is committed to paying on time, staying within the credit limit, and using the card for only appropriate expenses you have discussed in advance. This is a great responsibility to provide a teenager because it really gives them the ability to start developing good financial habits. Whether that is putting an alert in their cell phone when the payment is due or if that is handwriting it on a calendar. Additionally, your child will have the opportunity to really learn to budget and live within their means. These are fundamental finance lessons and habits that will help to lay the groundwork of what could be a very financially responsible young person.  

Financial Outlook

  Regardless of what ways you choose to teach your child about credit or build their credit, know that your outlook on finances can easily become your child’s. If you find yourself scared of money, it’s likely your child will too. So often children learn relationships based on what they see their parents doing, so be sure that you’re laying the right framework for them to be successful. It doesn’t have to be an overly complex and if you aren’t sure that what you are teaching them is correct try looking locally for classes or programs. You should be able to find some financial literacy courses either online or within your local community. These can really help your child to familiarize themselves with common financial terms and create good financial habits. Good financial habits include how to save money, charitable giving, and even what taxes are.  No one knows your child better than you and no one wants them to succeed more than you, so be sure to give them the right tools and resources to do so.  

Ask These 10 Questions When Hiring a Financial Advisor

    NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – The bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.