A quarter of Americans expecting a tax return will spend their money before they get it

The Internal Revenue Service is good for it, aren’t they? So of course you’re willing to spend some tax refund money before actually having it in your hand.

SunTrust says 25 percent of Americans have already made plans to make a big purchase before they even get their refund. That number is even higher among millennials (36 percent) and Gen Xers (40 percent).

Brian Nelson Ford, financial well-being executive at SunTrust, isn’t sure this behavior is a trend, but can see why some age groups would be more likely to spend their returns over others.

“Many people in the 35- to 44-year-old age range have greater demands on their finances, like a mortgage, child care costs or other large monthly expense,” Ford says. “As a result, it’s not surprising that this age group is more likely to spend a tax refund before it arrives.

While millennials and Gen Xers are more likely to spend their cash before getting it, age groups after Gen Xers are less likely to jump on the bandwagon.

Don’t spend what doesn’t exist

Remember that old saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it?” It applies to everything — including your tax refund. Whether you’ve filed and are anxiously awaiting your refund or you’re going to file and you have an idea of what you’re going to be getting back, avoid spending when you don’t have any actual cash to show for it. Ford believes we shouldn’t give into the idea of money — what if something happens to your return before you get it? Or there’s an emergency? Then what will you do?

“Resist the temptation [to spend] because you are more likely to make a smarter decision if you take some time to research the purchase and sleep on it a few nights until the money is actually in your possession,” Ford says.

If you’re feeling the itch to spend, don’t scratch it. Look at your priority list first to see if you’re meeting your own financial goals before looking around for a place to spend your cash.

“For many people, the decision to spend their refunds instead of save them may be due to a lack of financial education,” Ford says. “They don’t know how much of a difference saving that money would make over time.”

Ford suggests meeting with a professional who can help you decide whether to pay down debt, save the cash, invest, or a combination of all these.

Save yourself first

Public service announcement: none of us are ready for an emergency. If you’ve never prepared you or your family for a financial crisis, you might not know that stashing away extra cash is vital. In fact, saving should be your number one priority when it comes to your tax return.

“The first priority for a tax refund should be creating a $2,000 emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses,” Ford says. “It provides you with assurance in knowing that you can handle an unexpected financial curveball life may throw at you.”

Time and again we discover more Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to handle any sort of financial emergency if one were to arise, whether it’s unexpected car trouble or a new health concern in the family.

If you want to figure out how much money to spend on yourself, SunTrust suggests the 50/20/30 rule: use 50 percent to pay down debt, 20 percent to save, and 30 percent to spend. This should help you decide how much you can allot to splurges, rather than spending all your return.

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Meet the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn


Zinn is a freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Budgeting & Saving, Credit & Debt

financial literacy, IRS, save money, tax refund, tax returns

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Article last modified on October 30, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Should You Spend Your Tax Refund Now?  - AMP.