If you are one of the millions of Americans who have received, or will receive, a tax refund — it's likely you will have it spent in less than one month.
But are you spending it on the right things?
"I have nothing against having a bit of fun with a portion of your refund, but I always want people to put money into something beyond a moment," said Doris Banks, a financial counselor at Jax Federal Credit Union. "Do something, buy something or save for something that has staying power and lasting value."
The majority of Americans who get a refund spend it in less than a month, with more than a quarter spending it in just days, according to stats put out by Liberty Tax. And while Americans are not always known for their disciplined spending habits, more than 40% said at least some part of their refund went to bills, while just less than 40% said some part of their refund went into savings.
Those are the correct places to look at putting your refund check, according to financial experts.
"Any additional money you receive outside of your normal budgeted income should be leveraged to earn the most long term benefit," said Carla Blair-Gamblian, Veterans United Home Loans consultant team lead. "For tax returns, this same principle applies. Don't use it as 'free money,' but as money with a purpose and a mission to work for your future self as much as possible."
Blair-Gamblian points out just one extra payment a year can cut off five to ten years on the life of a 30-year mortgage, saving thousands in future interest payments — or the refund could be invested into a Roth IRA, growing tax free.
And of course, there always is high-interest debt.
"This is probably the most common use for tax returns and would be top priority if costly debt is a part of your financial profile," Blair-Gamblian said. However, she warned, "repeating this cycle yearly essentially puts the refund into the pocket of creditors and would prevent the tax payer from using the money to invest in their future; your refund becomes their refund."
Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer at WageWorks, said paying down credit card debt, maxing out your 401(k) or Roth or building an emergency nest egg are all no-brainers for personal finance savvy people but another way to make the most of your tax refund is by putting it toward your Health Savings Account (HSA).
"An HSA is an invaluable savings planning tool because it allows you to set aside money pre-tax via payroll deductions to cover out-of-pocket health expenses and also serves as an investment vehicle for your health care expenses in retirement," Dietel said.
Dietel said HSAs receive a higher return rate than most 401(k) plans, pointing out on average HSAs give a return of 11.3% on a three-year basis - which exceeds the typical 401(k).
Another less common — but financially responsible — use is to look at energy efficient upgrades to your home.
"This can benefit you in three areas: deductions or credits for next tax season, savings on energy bills for years to come and increased value of your home." Blair-Gamblian said.
And if you don't want to stash that refund into a traditional savings or retirement account, putting it into education funds for one's children is a good option.
"Most individuals who get sizable returns are probably getting Additional Child Tax Credits," Blair-Gamblian said. "Why not put that credit toward the future of your dependents? Education Savings Accounts or 529s, are good options.
"These accounts grow interest tax free, and some states might give you a deduction on future state tax returns depending on the fund you contribute to," she added.