The average tax refund last year was around $3,000, according to the IRS. While it's always a safe bet to squirrel this money away for a rainy day, there are other uses for your refund that are not only more fun and personally enriching, but also completely responsible.
Here are our 10 best ideas for how you can use your tax refund in the coming year.
Plan a summer vacation
Summer isn't too far off; begin planning and investing now so you know you'll be able to take the vacation you've been dreaming of. Be strategic: how much money will you need and when? Is your destination do-able, or do you need to think of new options? The earlier you plan, the more effectively you can use your money. For some inspiration, check out the New York Times' list of 52 places to visit in 2018, which includes places you may not have thought of, from Denver on a budget to farm stays in rural Iceland or fine dining in Tasmania.
Replace a faulty appliance and get "smart"
It may seem like a minor issue, but don't underestimate the liberation of no longer seething while cleaning your leaky coffee maker every morning. While you're at it, get a "smart" appliance that will make your life that much easier, like a Behmor coffee maker that brews to your personal specifications ($169.99 on Amazon), an iRobot mop ($169 on Amazon), or go big and get several smart appliances and master them all with Bosch Home Connect, which allows for such pleasures as starting a load of laundry from the comfort of your bed.
Fund a hobby
Filling your free time with fulfilling hobbies is rarely free of cost. Baking, knitting, and even running all require some financial investment. Whether you're looking to fund a hobby you already enjoy or find a new hobby you're curious about, you can use your tax refund to maximize your personal enjoyment outside of work. New York magazine has compiled a comprehensive list of 20 hobbies to enjoy in 2018, from quirky pastimes like floral arranging, to learning how to become a better cook and hosting awesome dinner parties for your friends.
Make an investment in your human capital
Improve your résumé and position at work, or improve your future prospects, by making an investment in your human capital. You can take a class to learn a résumé-boosting skill, book a self-appointed business trip or conference that will help you make important connections, or, use your tax refund to invest in an exciting business idea you'd like to develop down the road.
Invest in your health (and finally meet those New Years' goals) with a diet or fitness reboot. This should be an investment that will encourage you to commit. To become a better eater, why not invest in a meal delivery service like HelloFresh or make homemade juices and smoothies with a Vitamix blender? If you're looking to become more fit, consider joining a gym (this can often be more effective than going to stand-alone classes), or if you want to work on your mental wellbeing, consider going on a wellness retreat with some friends.
Be a philanthropist
If you're feeling generous, there are plenty of worthy causes to contribute to this year, from fighting for safer gun laws, funding aid for Syrian refugees, giving money to a political campaign you believe in, or donating to an organization that's helping to raise awareness about climate change or pay gaps between men and women. Here are some of the top charities for 2018.
Get an electronic upgrade
Use your refund to get a new phone or tablet, and pay it off in full so your monthly phone bill doesn't go up. While it's true that you don't need to upgrade your personal electronics often—definitely not as often as new upgrades come out—if you've been holding on to an iPhone 4, there are many benefits to going bigger. The iPhone x for instance is a huge leap from other editions, offering the ability to take professional-grade photos, a longer battery life (goodbye Mophie cases!), and even a wireless charging feature.
Get a more comfortable pair of shoes
Many of us continue to shuffle to work in blister-inducing heels for no good reason other than we're too lazy to find a comfortable pair of work shoes. Finding comfy shoes that don't look like orthotics takes a bit of research, but your time will absolutely be rewarded, saving you from blisters or even more serious complications like fasciitis or chronic arch pain. Check out our list of 2018's most comfortable, stylish shoes.
Get some new lingerie
Yes, this is a completely worthwhile use of your money! Throw anything out that you'd be embarrassed to show to another human and replace all of it. Don't underestimate how much this will feel like a new beginning. Plus, there are some incredible new bra and undie brands that are worth investing in, as much for style as for comfort, many of which are owned and operated by women. Some favorites include the new underwear line from Everlane, Lively, Bare Necessities, Journelle, and Natori.
When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.