COLUMBIA, Mo. – Some people see their tax refund as a chance to splurge.

Not so fast, says Andrew Zumwalt, personal finance specialist with University of Missouri Extension. For the wise, a refund windfall is a chance to splurge a little and save a lot.

The nonprofit organization America Saves suggests a 30-40-30 plan for the past, present and future: Designate 30 percent of your refund to pay off debt and catch up on outstanding bills. Earmark 40 percent for current use. Leave the last 30 percent for long-term savings or to jump-start an emergency fund.

MU Extension and VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) offer free tax preparation for qualified individuals. IRS-certified volunteers provide information on financial programs offered through MU Extension.

Zumwalt offers these financial tips:

• Save part of your refund for emergencies. Save $500-$1,000 for unexpected repairs or medical bills that could create a financial crisis and add to your debt.

• Have part of your refund electronically deposited into a savings account. You can have your refund direct-deposited into more than one account.

• Pay down high-interest debt. Pay smaller, high-interest balances first if you have more than one card. Review rates and consider transferring debt to a lower-interest card.

• Check your credit report. Make it a habit to check your annual free credit report when you file your taxes. Go to

• Look at small expenses. Small amounts add up over time. Scrutinize daily habits to see if you can reduce expenses. That daily cup of coffee on the way to work may be more expensive than you think in the long run.

For those getting a refund, Zumwalt recommends useful free online information from America Saves. The program also offers confidential help. For more information, go to

For information about the VITA tax program in Missouri, go to

MU Extension offers numerous financial education workshops throughout the year. For information on resources in your county, go to

America Saves Week is Feb. 23-28. For more information, go to

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