The average tax refund is roughly $2,750 for the 2018 tax year. With the US household income at around $62,000, that's 5% of one's income they've overpaid to the evil empire. Everybody knows that getting a refund is like giving the government an interest free loan. But, with interest rates the way they are, who cares?!
If you were to ask people to put aside $230 a month to save $2,750 a year, I bet most would fail due to the lack of discipline. As a result, I think it's fantastic most people are getting refunds. The key is not blowing your refund on some splurge you wouldn't otherwise spend money on if you didn't get a refund.
In 2014, I had to pay about $1,000 more in Federal taxes, but I got several thousand back from the state of California. For the past 10 years, I've saved or invested every single refund I've received, and this year was no different. Boring! At least a philosophical post came out of it entitled, “Is Paying Taxes A Form Of Charity?”
Here's a neat infochart with more ideas of what to do with your refund. I like the rocket ship chart of investing your refund every year until you retire with a 7.5% return. Buying a nice Macbook Pro would be sweet too, however, that's a corporate expense, baby!
If you are like me, you should be motivated to invest and pay down more debt with your refund, rather than spend it on superfluous things. Although buying 1,000 lottery tickets sure sounds like way more fun!
HERE'S HOW TO INVEST YOUR REFUND
1) Take your boss out to lunch (10% / $300 over the year). Your number one money-maker is your job; hence, it behooves you to invest as much as you can in making yourself the most compensated employee possible. One of the best ways to get paid and promoted is to build a tremendous support network of individuals predisposed to root for your success. When it comes time for a raise and a promotion, your name will float to the top of the list because managers tend to take care of people they like and disregard people they don’t really know. It doesn’t matter how rich somebody is — nobody can resist a free lunch!
Estimated return on lunch: 1,000%+
2) Donate to a charity that matters most to someone whom you want to impress (10% / $300). If for some reason you feel bad about taking your boss out to lunch, support her in a different way by volunteering your time or money to a charity that she cares about deeply. (Ideally, you will sincerely care about the charity as well, for congruency purposes.) Nothing builds better relationships than finding something shared in common that greatly matters. Because his mother had died from lymphoma years before, a friend of mine supported a client’s lymphoma marathon charity. The client was raising money for lymphoma research because his close friend had also died from lymphoma. Not surprisingly, the two men formed a very tight bond,and from then on my friend was perennially ranked #1 with that client.
Estimated return on donation: A lifetime connection + 1,000%+
3) Take your loved one on a weekend getaway (30% / $900). Money doesn’t matter much if you don’t have somebody you love with whom to spend it. Assuming there’s someone special in your life, you probably neglected, upset, disappointed, or saddened that person at some point during the year. Use some of your refund to apologize and show them you still love them deeply. If you don’t have someone special, then offer to take your best friend somewhere to catch up on good times and make new good times. Poll after poll shows that having a good circle of friends is the number one source of real happiness.
Estimated return on friends and partners: Priceless.
4) Thank your parents (30% / $900). Without our parents we would not be where we are today. Although most of our parents don’t expect any special thanks for raising us, it’s always nice to give back to those who may have sacrificed the most for us. Some parents are financially struggling due to unlucky breaks or poor decisions and are too proud to ask their children for help. Touch base with them and allocate part of your refund to those who could use the money most. They’ve spent a lifetime working to provide not only for you, but also for themselves in retirement. Help make their golden years the best years possible.
Estimated return on thanking our parents: Priceless.
5) Treat yourself (20% / $600). A tax refund isn’t new money; it’s money that you earned and that was owed to you all along. Most financial advisors would encourage you to save your refund, invest your refund, fund a ROTH with it, or use it to pay down high interest debt. By now, however, you’ve already invested 80% of your refund in steps 1-4, with returns that range from 1,000% to priceless; go ahead and treat yourself with the remaining 20%! A 1,000% return on a lunch investment blows away any historical 8% S&P 500 return average.
Estimated return on thanking yourself: Sanity and motivation.
FOCUS ON GIVING INSTEAD OF RECEIVING
Because the average refund is a relatively small absolute dollar amount, going the traditional route of investing or paying down debt is not an exciting proposition. Even if your entire $3,000 refund returned a healthy 10%, that’s only a $300 pre-tax return… and how much would that really change your life? Focus instead on using your refund to improve existing relationships or make new relationships. Not only does it feel better to give than to receive, you’ll likely end up receiving way more down the line anyway!
RECOMMENDATION TO BUILD WEALTH
Manage Your Finances In One Place: One of the best way to become financially independent and protect yourself is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize your money. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances on an Excel spreadsheet. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how all my accounts are doing, including my net worth. I can also see how much I’m spending and saving every month through their cash flow tool.
The best feature is their Portfolio Fee Analyzer, which runs your investment portfolio(s) through its software in a click of a button to see what you are paying. I found out I was paying $1,700 a year in portfolio fees I had no idea I was hemorrhaging!
Finally, they launched an incredible Retirement Planning calculator that pulls your real data to give you as pure an estimation of your financial future as possible using Monte Carlo simulation algorithms. Definitely check to see how your finances are shaping up as it's free. I've been using Personal Capital since 2012 and have seen my net worth skyrocket during this time thanks to better money management.
Tax Savings Recommendation
Start A Business: A business is one of the best ways to shield your income from more taxes. You can either incorporate as an LLC, S-Corp, or simply be a Sole Proprietor (no incorporating necessary, just be a consultant and file a schedule C). Every business person can start a Self-Employed 401k where you can contribute up to $54,000 ($18,000 from you and ~20% of operating profits). All your business-related expenses are tax deductible as well. Simply launch your own website like this one in under 30 minutes to legitimize your business. Here's my step-by-step guide to starting your own website.
Updated for 2019 and beyond.
Photo: Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia.