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Are you in Good Hands?


Depositing a hefty refund check every summer means one thing: you loaned a pile of your hard-earned cash to the U.S. government, interest free. That’s a lost opportunity. You could have invested that cash toward your own goals.

Withholdings are how you tell the government how much money to take out of your paycheck every month. The best time to adjust them is early in the tax year, though some choose to decrease withholdings just before the holidays, to give their paychecks an extra bump for shopping.

The average refund weighs in at around $2,953. That comes to about $246 a month. Here’s how to make that money multiply.

Did You Know?

75% of Americans get a tax refund every year

Capitalize on Compound Interest The best bet is to continue contributing to a 401(k) or IRA. Because your contributions to these retirement plans are made with pre-tax dollars, increasing them lowers your taxable income.

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Plus, those funds will enjoy tax-deferred compound growth until you withdraw them in retirement. In 2015, you’ll be able to sock away up to the $18,000 contribution limit ($24,000 if you’re over 50) in your 401(k), or as much as $5,500 in an IRA ($6,500 if you’re over 50).

Even better? Some companies offer a 401(k) matching component, adding 50 cents or more to every $1 you contribute up to a set percentage of your salary. That’s a real windfall.

Ditch the Debt Demon Are you carrying a credit card balance? Making car loan or mortgage payments? Household debt like this can cost you anywhere from 4% to 20% in interest. That means any extra payments you make toward paying down debt offer immediate savings because you won’t need to keep paying so much money in interest on those debts — they’ll be closer to paid off!

Line Your Safety Net It’s all too easy for a life event to derail your retirement plans, especially if it’s something unpleasant, like a job loss. So if you don’t already have six months' worth of living expenses set aside for unanticipated financial shocks, steer some of your once-IRS-bound cash toward an emergency fund. Setting up a direct deposit from your paycheck to a savings account earmarked for crises makes building these savings painless.

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The smallest things can make all the difference. Little changes can help you find a bit more cash to stash in your emergency fund.