According to the Internal Revenue Service, more than 70 percent of the nation’s taxpayers received a tax refund averaging nearly $3,000 in 2017 and could potentially get a similar amount this year. As Americans receive their refunds along with additional benefits coming from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December, here are seven tips to help tax refund recipients efficiently utilize those tax refunds.

Tax season is the perfect time to hit the reset button on your finances. Your refund can help put you on the right path toward reaching your financial goals. Consider using it to pay off debts, creating an emergency fund, or saving for the future.

  1. Save for emergencies. More than 60 percent of Americans are not prepared for unexpected expenses. You can prepare by opening or adding to a savings account that serves as an “emergency fund.” Ideally, it should hold about three-to-six months of living expenses in case of sudden financial hardships, like losing your job or having to replace your car. Consider setting up automatic transfers into a savings account.
  2. Pay off debt. Pay down existing balances either by chipping away at loans with the highest interest rates or eliminating smaller debt first.
  3. Save for retirement, your child’s education, or future health expenses. Open or increase contributions to a tax-deferred savings plan like a 401(k) or an IRA. We can help you set up an IRA, while a 401(k) is employer-sponsored. Look into opening a tax-advantaged 529 education savings plan to ensure school expenses will be covered when your child reaches college age. Or, save for future health expenses with tax-free dollars by investing in a Health Savings Account. You may also want to open up a certificate of deposit, or CD.
  4. Pay down your mortgage or student loans. Make an extra payment on your mortgage or student loans each year to save money on interest, while reducing the term of your loans. Be sure to inform your lender that your extra payments should be applied to principal, not interest.
  5. Invest safely with U.S. savings bonds or municipal bonds. The U.S. Treasury allows for savings bond to be purchased using your tax refund for as little as $50. Savings bonds earn interest for a maximum of 30 years.
  6. Invest in your current home. Use your refund to invest in home improvements that will pay you back in the long run by increasing the value of your home. This can include small, cost-effective upgrades like energy-efficient appliances that will pay off in both the short and long term – and with tax credits (as long as Congress continues to renew the program). If you have more substantial renovations in mind, consider using a First Bank home equity line of credit.
  7. Donate to charity. Giving to charity will help make a difference in your community and you can potentially claim the tax deduction, if you itemize. Always check with a tax professional to ensure your donations are tax deductible.

Even if your income is too low to trigger any federal tax liability, you could potentially claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Depending on a recipient’s income, marital status, and number of children, the EITC can result in a sizable refund to help ensure some financial security.

* 2018, American Bankers Association, ABA