The tax-filing deadline arrives this week. Will you be getting a refund? If so, take the time to consider how best to use it - because, when used wisely, your tax refund can give you a few added steps on the road toward achieving your financial goals.
Of course, if you filed your taxes weeks ago, you might have already received a refund. But given the current economic environment, you might have kept the money in a "holding place" while you waited for an uptick in the financial markets. At any rate, if you have access to a refund this year, you now have the opportunity to put that money to good use.
How? Here are a few ideas:
Help fund your IRA. In 2008, the average federal tax refund was $2,429, according to the Internal Revenue Service. If you were to receive that amount, it would cover almost half of your IRA contribution for this year, as the annual limit is $5,000. (You can put in $6,000 if you're 50 or older). A traditional IRA grows tax deferred, while a Roth IRA grows tax free, provided you have held your account for at least five years and don't take withdrawals until you reach age 59-1/2. Your IRA may have taken a hit last year, but if you fund it with quality investments and avoid making withdrawals until retirement, you can take important steps to help rebuild your portfolio.
Help build an emergency fund. You could use part of your refund for an IRA and part to help build an emergency fund. Ideally, you should have six to 12 months' worth of living expenses in a liquid account to help pay for unexpected costs, such as a major car repair, a new furnace or a costly medical bill. Without such an emergency fund, you might be forced to dip into your long-term investments to pay for these costs - and that can hurt your progress toward your financial objectives.
Help rebalance your portfolio. Based on your risk tolerance, time horizon and long-term goals, you may have decided to put a certain percentage of your assets in "growth" vehicles and a certain percentage in incomeoriented investments. At that point, your portfolio was in equilibrium. But during the long bear market, your portfolio may have sustained enough losses to become "unbalanced." In other words, some of your investments may have lost so much value that they no longer make up the percentage of your holdings that you had originally intended. Of course, you could wait for these investments to bounce back - and they may, given enough time - but if you wanted to speed up the rebalancing process, you could use your tax refund to add the right types of new investments to your mix.
Ironic as it may seem, there may not be a better year in which to invest your refund. You can find many quality investments at reasonable prices today, so your refund can help you add extra shares to your accounts - and the more shares you own, the better off you may be when the market turns around. So put your refund to work soon.