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Put that tax refund to good use

It's tax time, and if you're like many Western New Yorkers, you're anticipating a refund.

Cha-ching, right? Well, sort of.

It is nice to be handed a check for a big, lump sum of cash -- especially for folks who have a hard time accumulating savings on their own.

But a tax refund is not a lottery jackpot. It's money that came out of your paycheck all year long. And if you don't have some financial basics in order, there are smarter things to do with your money than take a vacation or buy an iPad.

Here are some recommendations for your refund from money expert Andrea Woroch at Kinoli Inc.

*Change your IRS withholdings. If you regularly get a big refund back each year, it's because you're authorizing the IRS to withhold too much money from each paycheck. Why give the government an interest-free loan with your hard-earned cash?

Use the withholding calculator at and adjust your W4 accordingly. You'll have more money each paycheck to pay for the things you need.

*Pay off debt. With less debt, you'll have more money each paycheck to spend on things you want. You will also be able to avoid interest payments and other debt-related fees. Pay on the debt with the highest interest rate to save the most money.

*Do home improvements. This is a way to increase your home's value and still have a little fun. Update those cupboards you hate, or replace that ugly countertop in the bathroom. You'll increase your resale value and make your surroundings more pleasant.

*Make a healthy donation to your favorite church or charity. They could really use it, and you'll be able to deduct it as a tax write-off next year.

*Fund a Roth IRA. It's the preferred retirement fund for those who qualify, and your tax refund can give you a great start.

*Invest in yourself. There's no better way to increase your earning potential than to improve yourself. Enroll in continuing education classes, learn a foreign language or pick up a skill that would be useful in your field. You can also use the money to pay membership fees to a professional organization.

*Stash it in your emergency fund. If you don't have six months of expenses saved, you're setting yourself up for crushing debt should anything happen to your job. Without a smaller emergency fund, even a broken furnace or surprise car repair can spell disaster.

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