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7 Great Things to Spend Your Tax Refund On

February 25, 2020

While tax season fills most people with dread, there’s one thing everyone looks forward to — tax refunds. According to the IRS, approximately 71% of American tax filers receive a tax refund. In 2019, the average tax refund was a whopping $2,869. If you’re like many people, that may be the biggest lump sum you’ll see all year – so it’s important to use it wisely. 

 

By Kat Tretina

Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been featured in publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and more. She is focused on helping people pay down their debt and boost their income.

 

7 Best things to spend your tax refund on

During tax season, retailers compete for your business. You’re bombarded with advertisements and sales trying to get you to spend your newfound money. But before parting with your hard-earned funds – it is money you worked for, after all – focus on using your tax refund on things that will improve your finances, your future financial prospects, and overall well-being. 

 

Need inspiration? Here are seven smart ways to use your tax refund. 

 

1. Student loan lump sum payments

Student loan debt can be a substantial burden, causing you to put off other goals like saving for retirement, relocating to a new city, buying a home, or even getting married. 

 

Using your tax refund to make a lump sum payment on your debt could allow you to save money on interest fees and help you pay off your loans ahead of schedule. 

 

For example, let’s say you had $30,000 in student loan debt at 6% APR. With a minimum monthly payment, it would take you 10 years to repay your loans. And, you’d repay a total of $39,970; interest charges would cost you $9,970. 

 

But let’s say you received $2,869 as a tax refund. If you applied the entire amount to your student loans as a lump sum payment, you’d pay off your loans 15 months early and you would repay just $37,801. By using your tax refund to make an extra payment on your debt, you would save $2,169 in interest charges. 

 

You can make your tax refund work even harder for you by refinancing your student loans to possibly lower your interest rate. Use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator to see what you could save by refinancing your student loans.* 

 

2. Medical procedures

If you’re like many people, you may have put off going to the doctor or visiting a dentist because you simply couldn’t afford it. In fact, 25% of Americans reported putting off necessary medical procedures due to cost. However, skipping routine medical and dental care can cause more expensive issues later on, so it’s important to stick to a preventative care routine. 

 

If you haven’t been to the doctor or dentist because you were short on cash, using your tax refund to take care of your health is a wise investment. 

 

3. Car repairs

Cars are often money pits, causing many people to skimp on routine repairs because of the expense. AAA reported that the average car repair is $500 to $600, but can often cost much more. Keeping up with your car’s maintenance and making necessary repairs can improve your car’s lifespan and fuel efficiency, helping you avoid more costly issues later on. 

 

If you’ve been putting off any repairs or need to replace your tires, use your tax refund to finance that purchase so you can get to and from work safely. 

 

4. Professional development

With technology changing so quickly, it’s essential that you keep on top of the latest trends in your field so that you remain competitive in the job market. If you want to take your career to the next level, consider using your tax refund to invest in your professional development. You can attend a conference, take a class, or hire a career coach. 

 

5. Investments

If your finances are in otherwise good shape – meaning you don’t have high-interest debt or a pressing immediate expense – you can use your tax refund to build long-term wealth. Consider using your refund to invest your money by making contributions to your retirement accounts or an individual taxable account. 

 

Don’t think your tax refund can make that much of a difference? Think again. Over time, your money can grow significantly. 

 

For example, let’s say you’re 30 years old and deposit your $2,869 into an individual taxable account. If you don’t deposit another cent and your money earns an average annual return of 8%, that account will have grown to $31,374 by the time you’re 60. 

 

If you’re not sure where to start, check out robo advisors like Betterment® or WealthFront®. They automatically invest your money based on your goals and risk tolerance, so you don’t have to be an investment expert to reap the rewards. 

 

6. Exercise equipment

Investing in your health and wellness is a good use for your money. Over time, it can help you save on health insurance and medical bills, too. 

 

Consider using some or all of your tax refund to purchase exercise equipment you’ll actually use. Or, sign up for a gym membership or take a few sessions with a personal trainer to ensure you’re using the equipment correctly. 

 

7. A new computer

If you freelance or are thinking of starting a new side hustle, you may want to use your tax refund to purchase a new computer or software so that you can work more efficiently. With better tools, you may be able to improve your earning potential. And, you may be able to deduct the cost of a new computer or software on next year’s taxes (talk to a tax professional about your unique situation). 

 

How not to spend your refund

There are a lot of bad ways to spend a tax refund. But one of the worst is using it to purchase a car you can’t really afford. Unfortunately, using a tax refund to buy a new car is incredibly common. 

 

Using your tax refund as a down payment can help you qualify for a car loan. But car values depreciate rapidly, and you could end up with a car that is too costly for your budget, or you could end up owing more than the car is worth. That issue can put you in a precarious financial position, and it’s hard to dig yourself out of debt. 

 

If you need reliable transportation, use your tax refund to purchase an inexpensive, used car that you can comfortably afford. If you need to take out a loan, financial experts recommend that you choose a loan term no longer than 36 months; if you need a longer loan term than that to manage the loan payments, the car is likely more than you can truly afford. 

 

There’s seven things that you should spend your tax refund on, along with one that you shouldn’t! Regardless of your situation, focus on spending your refund responsibly. 

 

For more information, learn how to create a monthly budget.

 


 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. 

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: 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.

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paying down student loans with a credit card
2020-10-27
Should I Pay Down Credit Card or Student Loan Debt?

Dealing with student loans can be incredibly challenging for many college graduates. According to Experian, Americans carry an average student loan balance of $35,359. On top of that, the average credit card debt is nearly $6,200, says the credit reporting agency.    In most cases, targeting one debt at a time can help you pay off your balances faster and save you more money on interest. So should you pay down credit card or student loan debt first?   Here’s how to develop your strategy:  

Should You Pay Off a Credit Card or Student Loan First?

In the vast majority of cases, it’s better to prioritize your credit card debt before your student loan debt. This is primarily because credit cards charge higher interest rates than student loans.    Additionally, credit cards don’t have set repayment schedules, so it’s easy to add to your balance even while you’re paying them off. As a result, credit cards may keep you in debt for longer than student loans with firm repayment terms.   For example, let’s say you have the following debts:  
  • A credit card balance of $7,000 on an account with a 20% annual percentage rate (APR) and a $120 monthly payment.
  • Combined student loans worth $30,000 with a weighted-average rate of 6.5% and a $341 monthly payment. 
  In total, your minimum monthly payment would be $461, and if you were to pay just that amount and add no new debt to your credit card, you’d pay off the student loans in 10 years and the credit card in a little more than 11 years. You’d also pay a total of $24,739 in interest over that time.   Now, let’s say you could afford to put $510 toward your debt every month. If you were to add the extra payment toward your credit card debt until it was paid down, your balance would be paid off in a little under six years. Then if you use the total amount you were putting toward your card toward your student loans, you’d pay those off about a year and a half early. You’d also save $9,643 in interest.   If you were to do the opposite and focus on your student loans first, you’d pay those off sooner, but the higher interest rate on your credit cards will result in more total interest charges.    You can use a debt avalanche calculator to find out what you could save with your specific situation.  

Can You Pay Off Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Another thing you may be wondering is, can you transfer student loans to a credit card? The U.S. Department of the Treasury doesn’t allow federal student loan servicers to accept credit cards as a payment method, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a private lender that offers it as an option.   But you still can technically use a credit card to pay off a student loan by using the balance transfer feature. 

Many credit card issuers send out blank balance transfer checks that you can use to pay off other credit card accounts or other types of debt. These checks often include an introductory 0% APR promotion, which could potentially save you money as you pay down your balance.   To use one to pay off student loans, you’d write the check out to your loan servicer and submit it as payment or write the check to yourself and deposit it into your checking account, then make a payment.   But just because it’s possible to do this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a scenario where using a credit card balance transfer to pay off a student loan is the right move. Here’s why:  
  • Balance transfers come with fees, which can range up to 5% of the transfer amount.
  • If you don’t pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you’ll be stuck paying a higher interest rate, which can be in the mid teens or even upwards of 20%, on the remaining balance. 
  • The lack of a set repayment term on a credit card can make it more difficult to stick to your repayment plan and keep you in debt longer. 
  In other words, if you have credit card debt, using a balance transfer credit card to pay it off interest-free is generally a good idea. But it’s not worth doing the same thing with your student loan balance.   If you have a cash-back rewards credit card, you can also opt to use your rewards to help pay down your student loans.   

Using Your Credit Cards Wisely While You Have Student Loan Debt

In an ideal world, you’d never carry a balance on a credit card because when you pay your bill in full every month, you’ll avoid interest charges. But if your financial situation is tight because of student loan debt and other obligations, it can be difficult to avoid.    Whether or not you can afford to avoid credit card debt right now, here are some tips to help you limit your exposure to the risks they present:  

Always pay on time

Even if you can just make the minimum monthly payment, paying on time will ensure that you don’t get slapped with late fees and a ding to your credit score. If you do miss a payment, make sure to get caught up quickly — you won’t avoid a late fee but late payments aren’t reported to the credit bureaus until they’re past due by 30 days.  

Try to avoid a high balance

Your credit utilization rate is the percentage of available credit you’re using at a given time. So if you have a $1,000 balance on a card with a $2,000 credit limit, your utilization rate is 50%. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what your rate should be, but the higher it is, the more damage it will do to your credit score. So if you can, try to keep your balance as low as possible relative to your credit limit.  

Seek lower interest rates

As you work to pay down credit card debt, a balance transfer card with a 0% APR promotion can be a great way to save money on interest charges, even if you can’t pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends. If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer card, you may try to call your card issuer and see if you can get a reduced interest rate. There’s no guarantee your request will be granted, but credit card companies will sometimes offer a lower rate for at least a short period.  

Avoid using your card as you pay it off

If you keep adding charges to your credit card while you’re paying down the balance, it can feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. If you can, try to stick to using cash or your debit card while you pay down your debt — at least for most of your expenses — to make it easier to achieve your goal.   As you take these steps, you’ll be able to avoid some of the drawbacks that come with using credit cards regularly. They’ll not only help preserve your credit score but also make it easier to pay off your balance, so you can turn your focus to your student loans.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: 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.
2020-10-23
Ace Your Interview: Job Interview Tips

Life after graduation is full of responsibilities, like taxes, groceries and full-time jobs, but also full of opportunities. To capture these opportunities, you need to be prepared, and the best way to do that is to make sure you give the best job interviews possible. Here are a few job interview tips to help:  

Write a Top-Notch Resume

First step: get your
resume into shape. Make sure you fill it with your valuable work experience and qualifications. Your goal is to showcase the most successful and productive version of yourself possible.   Volunteer work, certifications, awards, and other accomplishments can all have a place on your resume. Many people like to build from resume templates you can find online, but if you use a resume template, just be sure you’ve thoroughly checked the verbiage to make sure it doesn’t sound scripted.   Your resume should show off your unique talents and skill set, as well as any numbers or figures that back up your work.  

Do the Research

One of the most important job interview tips is doing research beforehand. You want to be knowledgeable about both the job and the employer when you are being interviewed. Look at the company website to learn about company history, accomplishments, and other information. Also, take some time to read recent news about the company.   When you know what the company is looking for, you’ll be able to easily answer questions about how you will fit into the work environment.  

Know the Common Questions

Many interviewers ask the same, basic questions to better understand their candidates. While some may ask curveball questions, as well, you’ll be a step ahead if you come prepared with answers to common questions.   Examples include “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Even though these sound like very basic questions, it’s important to give a thoughtful answer. Take your time thinking through responses prior to the interview. Indeed has a fantastic list of 125 such questions to ensure you are never at a loss for words.   Don’t stress about knowing all the answers; just practice the ones you think are most important. Then, if they ask you something unexpected, you’ll have a few ideas to pull from.  

Practice

Once your research is done, it’s time to practice. Ask a friend, parent, sibling or roommate to run through interview questions with you. Focus on answering smoothly and confidently.   In a similar vein, treat any job interview you go to as practice. If you don’t get the job, you’ve still gained valuable interview experience.  

Ask Questions

One job interview tip some people don't think about is to prepare your own questions.   A job interview isn’t just an opportunity for a prospective employer to learn about you. It’s also a chance for you to learn about them. Ask questions you really want answers to, not just questions you think will impress the interviewer. Honest questions demonstrate interest and can help you decide whether you’d like to work for the company.   Ideally, you should prepare your questions in advance. That way, you’ll be ready when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” If you’re at a loss for words, questions about corporate culture and growth opportunities are always good options.  

Dress the Part

When dressing for a job interview, you should think about the first impression you’d like to make on your potential employer. If you aren’t sure about an outfit, err on the side of caution. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. When in doubt, it’s hard to go wrong with simple, business-professional clothing.   Of course, this is by no means an all-purpose interview cheat code. Different employers will expect their employees to wear different things. An interview at a bank will require far more formal dress than an interview at quick-service restaurant.   Again, though, err on the side of caution. You likely won’t be passed over for a job because you were too well dressed. To top it all off, research has shown that dressing up can significantly boost your confidence.  

Follow Up

After the interview, consider sending a thank-you email to the hiring manager. Express your gratitude for the interview and impress upon them your interest in the position. Be enthusiastic. You’ve got one more chance to make a positive impression.   If you get the job, congratulations. That’s fantastic. If you don’t, don’t stress. You’ve done the best you could do, and you’ve gained valuable interview experience to boot. Sometimes it takes time to find the perfect job. With your interview experience, you’ll be all the more likely to get it. If you’re looking for a job in the medical field, check out this article on common resume mistakes for medical professionals.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: 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.
Happy couple admiring their home
2020-10-22
Should I Build Home Equity or Pay Down Student Loans?

Owning a home is a goal for many people. In fact, 40% of young millennials are saving to buy a home. If you already own a home, congratulations on achieving your goal! If you are now faced with a mortgage and student loans, you may wonder which debt you should prioritize. Should you build home equity or pay down your student loans?    Here we will explain what home equity is, how to build it and when it’s better to focus on home equity or paying down student loans.   

What is Home Equity?

When you pay on a mortgage, even if you haven’t yet paid it off completely, you’re building equity in your home. Home equity is the difference between the market value of the house and what you owe. Here’s an example of how to calculate it:  

How to Calculate Home Equity

  You can calculate your home equity by subtracting the balance of your mortgage from the current value of your home. The value of your home is determined by the fair market value of your house or the appraised value. This number is the true value of your asset (your house) since it takes into account the amount you owe on the loan.    Your home equity is calculated in your net worth. You may have heard that home equity can be “tapped into.” This means you can borrow against the equity of your home and use the money in a variety of ways. A home equity loan can cover home renovations or pay off higher-interest debt.    Your home is valued at $375,000 and your mortgage balance is $275,000. You determine the equity by taking the value of $375,000 and subtracting the mortgage balance of $275,000. The equity in your home is $100,000.   

Home Equity and the Housing Market

  Your home’s equity often increases when you make mortgage payments, especially when paying down the principal on your loan. Your home’s equity can also increase when its value rises. Although the value is determined primarily by the housing market, you can raise the value through home improvements.   Just as the value of your home can increase based on the market, however, it can also decrease based on the market. The only sure way to increase your home equity is by paying down your mortgage loan. The more of the loan you pay off, the more your equity increases.  

Building Home Equity vs. Paying Down Student Loans

  If you follow the normal payment schedule, you’ll increase your home equity slowly. If you make extra payments towards your mortgage, you can build equity faster. However, if you also have student loans, should you build home equity or pay down your student loans instead? Let’s take a look at some factors that can help determine the best course of action:   

Interest Rates

If either your mortgage or any student loan has a variable interest rate, you may want to focus on that loan first, because you are at risk that the rate can rise and leave you with a higher payment to make. In addition, if one of your loans has a much higher interest rate than the other, you may choose to focus on it first.  

Security

With student loans, in certain instances, if you are facing financial hardships you can temporarily suspend payments. Mortgages offer less flexibility with payments, therefore missing payments can result in foreclosure and losing your home.  

Loan Balances

If you have student loans with lower balances than your mortgage, you may be able to pay them off more quickly. Then, you can continue to build equity after paying down your student loan debt.   

Tax Implications

You may get a bigger tax break by building equity versus paying off student loans. However, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Interest paid on student loans is deductible, however, there is a cap on how much. As of 2020 the cap is $2,500. Your income must meet the requirements to be able to deduct this amount.    Interest paid on mortgages is also deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. The mortgage interest deduction can be much higher than $2,500. To learn more about either of these options, consult with your tax advisor.  

Refinancing Your Student Loans With ELFI

If you don’t want to choose between building equity or paying off your student loans, then consider refinancing your student loans with ELFI. Use our student loan refinance calculator* to see how much you may be able to save.   

The Bottom Line 

Each person’s financial goals and situation are unique, so you have to make the best decision for you. Hopefully, however, knowing more about both options and which is better in certain circumstances will help you make an informed decision.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: 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.   *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.