NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If you're getting a tax return, there's no law that demands you spend it on a trip to Bermuda or for a new set of Ping golf clubs.
TD Ameritrade reports that 61% of Americans say they will either save or invest their tax refund. Another 21% will pay off debt, and 18% say they will use the money to buy "necessities.'
(Taxpayers, by the way, have their own ideas on how the government should spend tax revenues, with 41% favoring spending on education, and 33% saying they want their tax money to go to job creation.)
If you do get a tax refund, you may be better off adjusting your paycheck withholdings so you, and not the federal government, get more use of your money.
"It's encouraging to see that so many Americans have plans to save or invest their refund money," says Lule Demmissie, a managing director at TD Ameritrade. "But, there is one lesson some of them could learn, especially those in Generation Y: Rather than giving Uncle Sam extra money throughout the year, they may want to consider adjusting their withholdings so they have that money to invest throughout the year. A small increase in the amount you invest monthly can add up over time."
If that doesn't work for you, and you want the refund anyway, there are some creative ways you can play "catch-up" with your savings and investing.
To pitch in, Justin Sinnott, a financial consultant at Charles Schwab, offers these ideas to make the most of your tax return:
Get into the market. Sinnott says too many Americans are prone to waiting for the "perfect time" to enter the market, but even poorly timed investments trump not investing at all. "Instead of sticking your tax refund in a low-interest savings account, consider investing now to benefit from the market's potential growth," he advises.
Boost retirement savings. So you missed your retirement savings goals for 2013? Minimize damage by using your tax return to help boost your 401(k) or IRA plan savings. Sinnott points out that savers have until April 15 to reach last year's IRA maximum contribution.
Hike college savings. "With ever-rising tuition rates, it's important to plan ahead for your child's college education," Sinnott says. "Putting your tax return in an education savings account will allow potential earnings to grow tax-deferred, plus you have until April 15 to make last year's contribution."
Consolidate debt. Cut your debt burden by consolidating, especially credit card debt. "Credit card debt not only carries a high interest rate, but it isn't tax-deductible, either," Sinnott adds. "Consider paying off debt with your refund."
No, none of the above are more fun than buying $300 cowboy boots or using the cash for front-row seats to see a favorite band. But they're a much better move over the financial long haul.
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