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Getting a big tax refund? Make sure you don’t blow it

Yeah, baby. The IRS is about to make it rain.

Many Western New Yorkers are about to get a big, fat refund check.

And while it’s nice to get that big old wad of cash – especially for those who have trouble setting money aside a little at a time throughout the year – it’s important to remember that these are not pennies from heaven. This is money you earned yourself; money that was taken out of your paycheck and out of your pocket all year long.

First, consider this: if you get a tax refund at the end of the year, it’s because you have too much money withheld from each paycheck. It’s the same thing as – say it with me, my beloved tax nerds – giving an interest-free loan to the government.

If you’d rather have more money in your pocket each week, you can change your withholding by filling out a new W-4 form for your employer. For help figuring out how much to have withheld, use the IRS’s calculator tool at

If getting a refund works better for you, hey – no judgment here. But before you plan a blowout trip to Las Vegas or order a giant new TV, consider that there might be wiser ways to spend that money.

• Put it in the bank. Experts recommend having six months worth of expenses readily available in an emergency fund. That fund is super important and will save you from unforeseen disasters big and small.

First, it will prevent you from turning to credit cards for sudden expenses, such as a broken furnace or car repair. Second, it will cushion you from dire circumstances should you become unemployed or somehow lose a relied-upon source of income.

• Invest it. The interest on savings accounts is so depressingly low, most savings beyond your emergency fund should be stored elsewhere.

Consider investing in your 401k or funding a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is considered the preferred retirement fund for those who qualify, and your tax refund can give you a great head start.

If you expect to have education costs in the future, either your own or that of your children or grandchildren, open a 529 college savings plan. For more information about New York’s tax advantaged 529 plans, call 1-877-697-2837.

• Pay off debt. Not only will you sleep better at night, you’ll save money on interest and fees. Start paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first.

• Invest in yourself. Take a class, learn a foreign language or become a member of a professional organization.

• Make an extra mortgage payment. Pay down that principal and you’ll pay less in interest.