It’s that time of year again when tax refunds are on everyone’s mind. A tax refund check can be a wonderful addition to your checking account; a sizable amount can even bring new financial opportunities your way. But if you don’t spend that check from Uncle Sam responsibly, it can also put you in debt. Here are some things you might want to avoid when you get your tax refund.
1. Spending the money before you receive it
One of the worst things you can do is spend your tax refund before you’ve even received it. Even if you got a head start on tax season and you know the amount you will receive, you might not want to spend your refund until you have the check in hand. If your refund is delayed, you may be strapped for cash until the check comes in — or worse, wind up in debt. (Debt can damage your wallet — and your credit. You can see how your credit currently fares by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
2. Go on a massive shopping spree
Splurging on a big-ticket item or going on a spending spree is a quick way to kiss your tax refund goodbye. If you’re already in debt because of your poor spending habits, try not to dig yourself into a deeper hole. Rather than spend this money on unnecessary items, which can lead to buyer’s remorse, consider using this money to help you pay off your previous spending.
3. Deposit the money into your checking account
While you may think stashing your tax refund in a checking account will prevent you from spending it right away, it won’t do you much good there. Without a plan for your refund, chances are it will remain in your checking account and later be spent on small, everyday purchases. If you’re unsure of what to do with your tax refund, consider other places to store it. You may want to place it in a checking account that bears interest or a mutual fund to make a return.
4. Pay for upgrades you don’t need
Of course, that new iPhone is slimmer and shinier, but is there something wrong with your current phone? When it comes to upgrades, it’s important to first address your needs. When you make an upgrade based on a want rather than a need, you may be quickly wasting your refund. Consider upgrades that will save you money in the long run, such as an energy-efficient appliance, or upgrades that will increase the value of your home like kitchen renovations.
For many, a tax refund, like credit cards, is viewed as free money. While it may be thrilling to know you can double this “free money” on red or black at the casino, there’s also the chance you can lose this cash. You may think you’re right where you left off before tax season, but this is not the case. Consider putting your refund to good use by investing or increasing contributions to retirement funds. This way you can still increase your refund, but with much less risk.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.