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5 Things You Shouldn’t Do With Your Tax Refund

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Tax season is upon us, meaning a refund might be headed your way. No doubt you’re excited by the idea of a cash influx, but this isn’t free money. “Most people think their tax return is a gift from the government,” said Paula A. Norby Krueger, owner of Norby Krueger Tax & Bookkeeping Services in Wahpeton, N.D.

Of course, this isn’t true—tax refunds are granted because too much money was withheld from your paycheck, meaning you paid more in taxes than you actually owed. Getting some of this money back is a unique opportunity to further some of your financial goals. Here’s a look at good and bad ways to spend your refund check.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Do With Your Tax Refund

1. Make big purchases that require payments. Norby Krueger said it’s unwise to purchase anything with a payment because you’re just incurring new debt. The money from your tax refund might cover the first few payments, and you’ll be on the hook for the rest.

This category is broad, but could include furniture, electronics or even installing a swimming pool in your backyard. One of the most common offenders? Cars. According to Kelly Blue Book, the estimated average of a new car is $36,978, so while your tax refund may make a nice dent, it would be a mistake to ignore your future payments.

2. Splurge. “You’re starting to see retailers push promotions with online tax preparation companies that allow consumers to roll their refunds into gift cards,” said Chris Jackson, CFP and founder of Lionshare Partners, a Los Angeles-based, fee-only financial planning firm.

It can be tempting to spend your tax refund on an expensive handbag or a big-screen TV, but think twice about that. The government is essentially returning money you earned, so don’t waste your hard-earned cash.

3. Take a carryforward. A tax carryforward allows you to save your tax refund to pay any taxes you’d owe the following year. If you pay quarterly taxes, this may be a good idea. But for most Americans, it’s not the best use of the funds.

“Unless you are incapable of not spending your money, do not carryforward the tax refund into the new year,” Jackson said. “That is an interest-free loan to the government.”

“Instead, you should pay down debt, max out retirement plans or increase emergency funds,” he said.

4. Nothing. Allowing your tax refund to sit in your checking account might seem like a responsible move, but it’s actually unwise. If it’s just sitting there, you’ll likely be tempted to use it.

Even if you have seriously impressive self-restraint, Jackson said that cash is an asset class that can and should be managed. Take advantage of high-interest savings accounts or consider a short-term bond ladder — i.e., a bond portfolio composed of different maturities.

5. Make hasty investment decisions.“Investors have to first identify what their goals are in order to select appropriate investments that make up their overall asset allocation,” said Levi Sanchez, CFP and founder of Millennial Wealth, a Seattle-based fee-only virtual financial planning firm.

Whatever you do, don’t just get caught up in investment hype, especially if you’re just entering the market. Take the time to learn about strategies that are the best for your financial situation, and consider reaching out to a financial advisor for guidance. Sanchez advises investors who don’t want to actively manage their portfolios on a weekly or monthly basis to consider passive investment vehicles, like index funds and ETFs,  i.e., electronically traded funds.

10 Things You Should Do With Your Tax Refund

“If you receive a nice windfall of cash from your tax return, consider how it can impact your financial situation if you put it to good use,” Sanchez said. “Whether that’s paying down high-interest debt, saving for a home down payment or putting [it] toward long-term investments.”

Improve your financial situation by using your tax return for one of these good causes.

1. Save for retirement. If you’re not saving as much for retirement as you’d like — or aren’t at all — take this opportunity to pad your account. In an ideal world, you’ll have 25x your annual expenses in your retirement account when you retire.

“If you are maxing out your tax-deferred vehicles — 401k and HSA — then use those tax savings to invest in a Roth IRA,” Jackson said.

2. Contribute to a 529 plan. “A lot of consumers are ignoring their retirement in lieu of college funding when they can do both,” Jackson said. “They can fund their 401k and use the tax refund to fund a 529 plan.”

If you’re not familiar with 529 plans, these tax-advantaged educational savings tools allow you to put money aside for educational expenses. Two types of plans are available — prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans — and all fifty states and the District of Columbia sponsor at least one of these options, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

3. Start an emergency fund. According to a report from the Federal Reserve, 40% of Americans do not have enough cash on hand to cover a $400 unexpected expense. If you’re lacking an emergency fund, or if it isn’t equipped to handle six to 24 months of expenses, Jackson recommended using your tax refund to pad your savings. Being prepared for unexpected costs will bring you peace of mind and can keep you from going into debt.

4. Invest in yourself. “Your ability to convert human capital into financial capital is the key to economic freedom,” Jackson said.

He advised boosting your human capital by improving or acquiring new skill sets. For example, you might take an online course that will give you the credentials required for a promotion at work.

5. Pay off credit card debt. In 2018, Americans paid $110 billion in credit card interest and fees, according to a MagnifyMoney analysis of FDIC data through September 2018. If you’re in debt, this is an opportunity to pay it down or maybe even eliminate it.

And once you do, stick with it. “Make a commitment to yourself not to go back to using the credit card,” Norby Krueger said. “Get out of debt and stay there.”

6. Make home improvements. Fixing up your home in a manner that adds equity can be a sound investment, Norby Krueger advised. A few projects that add value to a home include updating the kitchen, finishing the basement and making the house more energy efficient, according to Consumer Reports.

7. Save for a down payment on a home. As recommended by Sanchez, putting your tax return toward a down payment on a home can be a wise investment in your future. If you’re buying your first home, your down payment can be as low as 3.5% of the purchase price with an FHA loan. Most lenders offer conventional loans starting at 5% of the purchase price, but private mortgage insurance is required when you put down less than 20%.

8. Opt for experiences over things. If you want to use your tax refund for something fun and your finances are in good shape (well-funded emergency fund, no credit card debt, on track for retirement) consider traveling instead of shopping. Experiences create memories that last a lifetime, while most objects have a shelf life. Just make sure your vacation doesn’t exceed your budget.

9. Make charitable donations. If you truly don’t need the money, consider donating all or part of your tax refund to a charitable cause close to your heart. As an added bonus, if your contribution meets IRS requirements and you can itemize your taxes, you might even be able to write it off as a deduction.

10. Make an extra mortgage payment. Own your home outright faster than planned by using your tax refund for an additional mortgage payment. Make sure the second payment is put toward your loan principal.

Receiving a check from the IRS is exciting, but don’t forget this is money you worked hard for. Wasting money never feels good, so think long and hard about the best possible use for your tax refund.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Laura Woods
Laura Woods |

Laura Woods is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Laura here

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Study: More Men Received Pay Raises, Promotions Than Women Last Year

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The 2018 household income growth numbers released by the United States Census Bureau revealed that the median earnings of all workers grew over 3% last year. Sounds like a win, right? But the research also revealed that the 2018 median earnings of men was $55,291. Women, on the other hand, only made a median of $45,097.

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree wanted to investigate this pay disparity further. They conducted a survey of Americans who work at least 30 hours a week about their pay raises, promotions and career moves.

Key findings:

  • 59% of working Americans received a pay raise within the last year. Of those who got a bump in salary, about half said the raise came with a promotion, too. Additionally, 36% said the boost in pay resulted from a new job.

  • More men received pay increases and promotions than women: 64% of men reported a raise, compared to just 52% of women. To make matters worse, 54% of men said their raise came with a promotion, versus 37% of women.
  • Millennials reported more raises than older generations: 64% of millennials received a raise, compared to 61% of Gen Xers and 47% of baby boomers. Millennials were also more likely than other age groups to say their raise came with a promotion.
  • Approximatly 62% of those whose earnings increased also raised their retirement savings contributions. Men were more likely than women to increase their savings level.
  • Around 47% of working Americans think they’ll receive a raise next year.
  • Women are more likely than men to say they probably won’t get a raise next year: 21% of women doubt their pay will increase within the next 12 months, compared to just 8% of men. The more respondents made, the more likely they were to think they would receive a pay raise next year.

Gender pay gaps

You know the old saying: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. We know it’s not true, so why are women and men being paid like they live on different planets? In the past year, 12% more men reported receiving pay increases and promotions than women. Even more disappointing news: 17% more men than women picked up a promotion with their raise.

These figures strongly suggest that women had fewer opportunities for financial and career growth than men in the last year. These occurrences have a ripple effect. Men were 21% more likely than women to increase their retirement savings after they got a pay raise. It makes you wonder whether men are receiving larger pay raises than their female counterparts, considering women have been found to save a higher percentage of their money than men.

This difference in retirement saving contributes to a worrying trend. A 2018 study by Prudential found that on average, women save 43% less for retirement than men. And almost half of the women surveyed admitted to having no retirement savings at all.

Generational pay gaps

Gender may not be the only divide in the workplace. Millennials get a lot of flak, but they’re moving up in the workplace. Millennials reported earning more raises last year than Gen Xers and baby boomers.

While Millennials are more likely to be in the growth stage of their career, it’s also worth noting that in 2016, Millennials became the largest generation in the workforce. Millennials were also the most likely of any generation to report that their raise came with a promotion. Not bad for the generation everyone likes to laugh at for being “lazy.” To top it off, they were also the generation most likely to increase their retirement savings after receiving a raise.

How Outlook Varies

It’s fair to assume that the life and work experiences of each individual surveyed mold their view of the world around them. Because the women surveyed reported receiving fewer raises than men, it’s clear why they would be more pessimistic about their odds of receiving future raises.

While 47% of working Americans believe they’ll receive a raise next year, more of those Americans are men than women. Twenty-one percent of women doubt their pay will increase within the next 12 months, whereas only 8% of men feel that way.

Confidence seems to come easier to those with higher incomes. The more the survey respondents made in wages, the more likely they were to think they would be getting a pay raise in the next year. In their defense, the group with the highest income did in fact receive the most pay raises in the past year.

Tips on asking for a raise

When it comes time to ask for a raise, prepare yourself by following these steps. Coming to your boss with evidence regarding why you deserve a raise and how you will increase your contributions to the company will help you work toward your professional and financial goals.

State the facts

Even though you think your boss has a pretty good idea of your accomplishments, they don’t know them as well as you do. A successful request for a raise can take lots of prep work. Keeping track of your accomplishments, tasks and the changes in your role throughout the year will help you remember the triumphs you’re likely to forget a few months later.

Did a thrilled client sing your praises in an email? Flag it. Did the CEO comment on how impressed he was with your presentation? Write down his feedback. If you helped make your team more productive by introducing a new software, saved your department money or increased sales, keep notes of those occurrences somewhere you can easily reference them.

When the time comes to ask for a raise, you’ll have plenty of solid evidence at your fingertips as to why you deserve it. And remember, the more cold hard proof you have of your success (like web analytics or sales growth), the better.

Be strategic

Your boss shouldn’t feel blindsided when you ask for a raise. It’s important to give them notice that you want to speak to them about something important. Ask to schedule a meeting with your manager. Generally, they won’t be able to give you a firm yes or no during this meeting — that’s okay, they also have a boss to report to.

Make sure you set a meeting to follow up on your conversation. This holds your manager responsible for following through and tempers your expectations so you aren’t on pins and needles until you get an answer.

Don’t take no as a final answer

You won’t walk away from every request for a raise successfully, that’s just a fact of life. But it’s important to remember that getting a no now doesn’t mean no forever.

Ask your manager to elaborate on why they said no and how you can work towards a goal of a raise. Maybe there is an area of your performance you really do need to improve upon. Or perhaps your company doesn’t have the money for a raise in their budget. Agree on a time to circle back to this conversation later in the year, and in the meantime, take your manager’s feedback to heart. If they don’t give you a clear path for working toward a raise, it may be time to move on.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 543 Americans who work at least 30 hours per week. The survey was fielded September 5-9, 2019.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jacqueline DeMarco
Jacqueline DeMarco |

Jacqueline DeMarco is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jacqueline here

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How Much Does the Average American Have in Savings?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

  • The average American household has $183,200 worth of savings in bank accounts and retirement savings accounts as of June 2019.
  • The median American household currently holds about $12,330 across these same types of accounts.
  • The top 1% of households (as measured by income) have an average of $2,630,760 in these various saving accounts. The bottom 20% have an average of $9,190.
  • Roughly 83% of savings are in located in retirement accounts like IRAs and workplace-sponsored retirement savings plans like 401(k)s.
  • Millennials, who have just started their savings journey, have currently socked away an average of $24,570 retirement savings. Gen Xers have $127,550 in retirement savings. Baby boomers and those born before 1946 have an average of $279,250.
  • 29% of households have less than $1,000 in savings.
  • 30% of Americans deplete their savings an average of $14,230 every year.

You often read or hear stories about how Americans aren’t saving enough for college, for retirement, for a rainy day — for anything, really. But how much do they currently have in their bank, credit union or online brokerage?

MagnifyMoney used data from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) to estimate the average and median household balances in various types of banking and retirement savings accounts. 2016 household data from the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances was adjusted to 2019 levels by using March 2019 market values and fund flows.

Of course, these are very broad numbers, and very few of the 127 million U.S. households will be average. As of 2016, about 78% of households had at least one of the following: a savings account, a retirement savings account, a money market deposit account or certificates of deposit.

Average account balances

As of June 2019, among all households (including those with no account):

  • The average American household savings account balance is $17,750
  • The average American household has $6,220 in certificates of deposits (CDs)
  • The average American household has $9,430 in money market deposit accounts
  • The average American household has $9,820 in checking accounts
  • The average American household has $149,790 in one or more retirement savings accounts, including individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s and other types of retirement accounts

Note that all households won’t necessarily own each type of savings account. For example, only about 7% of households currently have savings in some type of CD, meaning that the 93% without one will necessarily drive down the average.

Here are the average balances among savers, regardless of the kinds of savings vehicles they use. The averages below only exclude the 22% of households without any of these savings accounts. Households that have some savings vehicles but not necessarily all of the savings vehicles below were factored into each average.

Across all “saver” households:

  • The average savings account balance is $24,290
  • The average money market deposit account balance is $12,210
  • The average amount held in one or more CDs is $8,520
  • The average balance of all retirement accounts is $205,020
  • The average checking account balance is $11,970

 

When you look at the average balances of those who own the particular account, the averages are even higher:

  • 51% of American households have a savings account, and the average balance among them is $34,730
  • 18% have money market deposit accounts, and the average balance is $74,970
  • 7% have one or more CDs with an average toal value of $95,600
  • 52% have one or more retirement accounts, and the total average balance is $287,736
  • 83% have checking accounts and the average balance is $11,970

 

Median account balances

Median balances are considerably lower than the averages. For example, the median savings account balance (among those with savings accounts) is $4,960, significantly lower than the $34,730 average American savings account balance. Fifty percent of households have more than $4,960 in those types of accounts, while 50% have less. (The median figures below only include households that have that type of account.)

  • The median American household savings account balance is $4,960
  • The median American household money market deposit account balance is $12,680
  • The median American household amount in one or more CDs is $25,280
  • The median retirement account size in American households is $75,480
  • The median American household checking account balance is $2,480

 

Demographics and savings

Who are the above-average saving households? Wealthier households comprise most of them, but less-well heeled households can have healthy levels of savings as well. When you look at households who have saved more than the national average of $183,200, 59 percent of them are top income earners– those households in the top 20 percent of annual income. But 41 percent of above average savers are in the bottom 80% by income.

    • Millennial households have saved an average of less than $25,000, Gen Xers have about $128,000 saved, while baby boomers have saved nearly $280,000.
    • Regardless of income or age, 29% of households have less than $1,000 saved.

When savings is viewed through certain demographic prisms, like age, income and education, the average and median savings account balances start making more sense. For instance, it won’t surprise anyone that households with higher incomes save more than those of more modest means.

 

So although the average American household has saved roughly $180,000 in various types of savings accounts, only the top 10%-20% of earners will likely have savings levels approaching or exceeding that amount. Indeed, and as the chart above shows, the bottom 40% of American households are more likely than not to have any savings whatsoever. Conversely, the top 10% of the population by income is likely to have many times the national household savings average.

Similarly, millennials will have saved less than boomers, as the latter has had a 35-year head start, among other factors. Currently, the average boomer has roughly 11 times the amount saved as the average millennial.

 

How much does the average American have in savings for retirement?

Of course, many American households store much of their savings in retirement accounts, like 401(k) plans from their employers and IRAs, both of which are tax-advantaged accounts that can hold not only “liquid” savings but also investments like financial securities and, in some cases, other types of assets like real estate. Fifty-two percent of households have some sort of retirement account, according to a 2016 survey by the Federal Reserve.

Among all households (including those with no account), the average retirement savings account balance as of June 2019 is $149,800.

But among households with an account (about 52% of all households):

  • American households with a retirement account (accounts like employer-sponsored 401(k) plans and IRAs) have an average of $287,740 in such accounts.
  • The median household balance as of June 2018 is $75,480 among those with retirement accounts.

For those households with retirement accounts, here’s how retirement savings break out among the different generations:

  • Millennials have saved an average of $34,570
  • Gen Xers have an average of $168,480 in retirement savings.
  • Baby boomers and those born before 1946 have an average of $386,110 in retirement accounts.

Nearly one-third of Americans deplete their savings by an average of $14,230 every year

According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, while nearly half of households grew their savings, 30% of households depleted their savings accounts at least once over the past five years. As might be expected, those with lower incomes (which may include working families as well as retirees) were more likely to draw down their savings an average of $14,230.

  • 49% of people with savings and investment accounts reported that they contributed to their balances over the course of the previous year, while 30% dipped into their savings, and 21% kept contributions and withdrawals even
  • Households with incomes of $25,000 averaged a net year-over-year withdrawal of $2,834. Net withdrawal for households between $25,001 and $50,000 was $792
  • 64% said they depleted their accounts to pay bills and 57% said they did to pay for general living expenses. (Respondents were allowed to choose more than cause.)
  • 15% said their voluntary decision to stop working was a cause, which suggests their savings were planned for that reason
  • 27% blamed reduced health and 16% said involuntary job loss was a factor
  • 24% of respondents said they didn’t have savings or investment accounts

Recent trends in deposit accounts

Here’s a closer look at how customers of banks and credit unions are allocating their deposits:

CDs are finally getting attention

The amount of savings in FDIC-insured banks have grown by nearly $4 trillion since the recession.

 

But until recently that deposit growth wasn’t going into CDs. Collectively there’s still less savings in CDs than ten years ago, while $2 trillion more have gone into savings accounts, and $2.2 trillion in Money Market Deposit Accounts (a type of savings account that typically allows checkwriting).

 

CD yields

As you may suspect, the primary culprit behind declining CD deposits are the accounts’ low yields. As illustrated in the chart below, the popularity of CDs has waned as banks paid relatively little interest for all CDs, even those with longer maturities. For much of the past decade, the average yield for locking up savings in 1-year CD barely exceeded the average yield on a money market account, which is more liquid than a CD.

 

Longer-term CDs haven’t been yielding much more, until recently. Although the Federal Reserve began its most recent series of short-term rate hikes in early 2017, CD yields only started to climb from rock bottom in spring 2018. And as you might expect, as the yields for CDs increased, the deposits from savers have followed. Over the past year CDs at commercial banks grew by 17%, to $1.86 trillion in June 2019.

 

Credit unions: A smaller pool with slightly better yields

While savings have also increased in the much smaller credit union universe, CD deposits have remained steady.

 

While there are multiple explanations for the steady share of CDs at credit unions, such as the institutions’ not-for-profit status (members are the shareholders), one obvious reason is the competitive rates they offer customers relative to banks. According to the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) quarterly survey, credit unions usually offer consistently higher rates on savings than commercial banks.

 

Fortunately, savers (or would-be savers) are not consigned to improving-but-still-meager average savings yields. The best yields for savings accounts,CDs and money market accounts well exceed the average APY by at least one percentage point and often more.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Chris Horymski
Chris Horymski |

Chris Horymski is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Chris at [email protected]