Three of every four Americans got a refund check last year and the average amount was $2,777, according to IRS statistics. Because the amount of a refund is often uncertain, we may be tempted to spend it without too much planning. One way to counteract this natural tendency is to come up with a plan beforehand to spend your refund purposefully.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pay off debt. If you have debt other than your home mortgage, a great spending priority can be to reduce or eliminate it. The longer you hold debt, the more the cumulative interest burden weighs on your future plans. You have to work harder for longer just to counteract the effect of the debt on your financial health. Start by paying down debts with the highest interest rates and work your way down the list until you bring your debt burden down to a manageable level.
  • Save for retirement. Saving for retirement works like debt, but in reverse. The longer you set aside money for retirement, the more time you give the power of compound earnings to work for you. This money can even continue working for you long after you retire. Consider depositing some or all of your refund check into a Traditional or Roth IRA. You can contribute a total of $5,500 to an IRA every year, or $6,500 if you’re 50 years old or older.
  • Save for a home. Home ownership is a source of wealth and stability for many Americans. If you don’t own a home yet, consider building up a down payment fund using some of your refund. If you already own a home, consider using your refund to start paying your mortgage off early.
  • Invest in yourself. Sometimes the best investment isn’t financial, but personal. If there’s a course of study or conference that would improve your skills or knowledge, that could be a wise use of your money in the long run.
  • Give some of it away. Helping people, and being able to deduct gifts and charity from your next tax return, isn’t the only benefit of giving to a good cause. Research shows that it makes us feel good on a neurological level. In fact, donating money activates our brains’ pleasure centers more than receiving the equivalent amount.1

If a refund is in your future, start planning now on how it can best help your financial situation.

1 https://www.wired.com/2010/12/the-science-of-charity