Its springtime and two annual phenomena will be reoccurring like clockwork as they have for years: 1) Trout season opens soon in the Eastern Sierras (yaay!) and, 2) lots of people are now flush with cash from tax refund checks.
The IRS has said that the average tax refund this year has been around $3,000, and that means all those folks who have been lending money to Uncle Sam at zero percent interest all year finally get their money back. The big question is, what will they do with the money?
In the past, consumers were hammered with waves of advertising offering to sell cars, boats, and electronics of all kinds on credit pending the receipt of their income tax refund for a down payment. Those voices have quieted down now (probably gone out of business) but all that extended spending did help fuel our consumer driven economy. Was it any wonder that at the same time we were being exhorted to buy stuff on easy credit, the US was racking up one of the worst per capita savings rates in the world? Without savings, how is a struggling household to weather an unexpected decline in income?
So, what’s the best thing to do with your tax refund? This is my advice: Do what’s best for you, and let someone else stimulate the economy. Pay off high interest credit card and auto debt. Sock away cash for an emergency reserve. Invest in your own retirement account. Pay off your mortgage(s). Ok that last one might be a bit tough, but you get the point. Its not real sexy advice, and you might not have that cool toy hauler and quads to take to the desert on the weekend, but you’ll breathe a little easier if the economy doesn’t pick up for a few years.