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What to do with $5,000

Most people don’t check their bank balances that often. If you get really lucky, that could mean you check one day and find that you’ve inadvertently saved $5,000. If this happens to you, what should you do?

Yes this is a real $5,000 bill. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Yes this is a real $5,000 bill. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pay down high-interest debt

The first thing you should do with that kind of spare change is to pay down any high-interest debt. We’re talking stuff like credit card debt, which often carries massive interest charges of over 20%. Since paying this debt down—or off—means that you won’t have to pay 20% interest on it, you’re essentially getting a sweet 20% return on your “investment,” much better than what you’d get in the stock market.

Pay off other debt

If you don’t have credit card debt, other kinds of debt can be worth tackling next—student debt and medical debt. Usually, you should go with the one that you’re paying a higher interest rate on first, but some people think going for the smallest sum works the best, because it gives you a stronger sense of progress.

Make sure you have an emergency fund

If your debt is all taken care of, what about your emergency fund? This is the next good place to put a spare five grand. If your cash is just sitting in your checking or savings account, consider the amount of interest it earns. If you’re getting only a few hundreths or tenths of a percent – the national average savings account interest rate is just 0.06% – consider opening an online savings account. These accounts often pay up to 1% in interest—50 bucks a year in the case of a $5,000 emergency fund.

Fill up your Roth IRA

The next priority would be putting money into a Roth IRA, if you have one. If you don’t—open one! It’s a great retirement tool that lets you make after-tax contributions now while you’re in a low tax bracket, and your returns (and withdrawals) don’t get taxed again. The yearly limit is $5,500 (if you’re under 50).

Or spend it!

If you’re all set on those fronts, consider investing and saving for stuff you might need before retirement, like a down payment on a house. Or, as my colleague Rick Newman has advocated, you could spend it. With all the uncertainty in the world now, it may be just as wise to invest that money by spending it on things like better windows for your house or a repair that you’ve been putting off.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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