Income Tax Refunds: Your Personal Powerball

By Layden Hale

My favorite saying is people don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan. 

You always hear about people who win the lottery and 10 years later they are broke. Usually it is because they fail to plan.

Try to avoid making that same mistake with your 2015 income tax refund. Handled correctly, that check from the Treasury can be your personal Powerball – no luck necessary.

Do you remember how much you got back from your 2014 income tax filing?

And do you remember what you did with the money? 

Layden Hale

Layden Hale

People often answer, “Well, I got ‘about’  $1,000 and I paid bills.”

Rather than just paying bills, you should think about how to save and spend your tax refund as part of an overall plan to budget and manage your income.

The average income tax refund for 2014 was $2,701. Assuming that figure for 2015, you may wish to place half ($1,350) in an “emergency” savings account. 

I often hear “I don’t have enough to open a savings account.” This type of planning will allow you to open and fund it.

Once you open the emergency account you can continue to add to it with a goal of saving an amount equal to three to four months of your salary. This would cover expenses if you lose your job, experience a medical emergency or incur an unexpected major repair.  

From the original $2,701 refund you could also place $400 in your sock drawer. Call it your “mad money.”  This takes care of some of your wants and prevents you from robbing that emergency savings account.

Finally, develop a debt repayment plan with the remaining $950. Try to stretch it to your best advantage. You may wish to pay off the smallest balances on credit cards. If two are of close amount, say $450 and $500, pay them both -- and focus on a third credit card or loan.  

Your goal is to think ahead a year, to be able to say in early 2017 what you did specifically with your refund – how much you got and where did it go.

One note of caution: people often are lured at the prospect of receiving their refund sooner -- for a fee.  Third party entities offer to advance your expected refund for a percentage of the amount. It may not be wise if your payment comes only a week to 10 days early. 

Several organizations in Central Ohio offer free tax preparation and filing, or leads to both. You may wish to consider contacting The Ohio Benefit Bank, calling 2-1-1 on your phone, or going on line to www.unitedway.org/myfreetaxes.com 

In summary, the key in all of this is to have a plan. We don’t want you to become one of those individuals who in frustration choose not to file a tax return. You don’t want the IRS coming after you. You want to pay your taxes, save, and reduce your debt.

By attending Homeport’s financial fitness courses you can learn about financial products to stretch your dollars.  We can’t make you the next Powerball winner but we can help you achieve winning strategies to meet your financial goals.

(Layden Hale is Senior Counseling Advisor for Homeport. Contact Homeport at 614 221-8889, ext. 134, to register for a financial fitness course, schedule a credit/budget counseling session or design a debt repayment plan. All of these services are free.)