Not everyone has put off filing their personal taxes for 2019 beyond the April 15 deadline, as allowed by the CARES Act.

If you knew you’d be getting a tax refund, you probably filed long before the coronavirus was ever declared a pandemic.

And, if so, what’s the smart way to use that money?

To start, it depends on how the pandemic has affected your income.

  • If you own a business, you may be bridging a temporary shutdown with SBA or other funds, and you will want to hold your tax refund in an easily accessible form.
  • If you lost your job, you’d probably want to combine it with any stimulus check you get and put it towards bridge money until you get unemployment benefits or a new job.
  • If you’re retired or counting on passive income, such as Social Security, dividends and investments, the recent marketplace turbulence will determine your needs.

But, if you are still in the workforce and receiving income as usual, your options are far broader. Let’s look at some.

Do you have an emergency fund?

If you have weathered the early rounds of shutdowns, furloughs and layoffs, you may be fortunate enough – or “essential’ enough – to hold on successfully until the economy has a chance to take hold once more.

Regardless, everybody needs an emergency fund. So, whether yours contains three, six or more months of living expenses, adding your tax refund to that fund can be a smart thing to do.

If your emergency fund is substantial, what else can you do with your tax refund?

Do you have credit card or other debt?

Take a look at the interest rates you are paying on your credit card and other similar debt. Is it 8%? 15%? 22%?

Do you think any investment you make could match that kind of return? If not – and the answer is probably ‘not’ – think of the power of paying down your highest-interest debt. You are guaranteeing a return equal to that interest rate. And, as long as you don’t need the funds for something else more urgent, doesn’t that make sense?

And, what if you don’t have any credit card or other similar debt?

How are your retirement savings doing?

If you’re saving toward retirement but still have a way to go, think about putting the funds from your tax refund in a Roth IRA. You have already paid tax on those original earnings, and these are excess taxes you are getting back. That means your funds can grow tax-free and be available in retirement as part of your income distribution plan.

If you are retired and your nest egg could use some shoring up, find a low-risk investment that grows faster than the rate of inflation, so the funds are available when you need them.

Now, what about that tax refund, are you still looking for it?

If you filed your taxes electronically, typically, you would get your tax refund within three weeks of e-filing if you requested a direct deposit in your bank account. If you asked for a paper check, it would take longer.

And if you are one of the 10% of taxpayers using paper filing, it could take even longer.

Note that delays are not related to the Economic Impact Payments, or ‘stimulus checks.’ As of April 3, the IRS had received over 97.4 million tax returns and issued over $213 billion in tax refunds.

However, because of social distancing and other pandemic-related guidelines, certain IRS services are now extremely limited or suspended until further notice. More follow-up options are available to you here.

So, how long will you have to wait for your tax refund? The IRS still shows a “Where’s My Refund?” tracking service at https://www.irs.gov/refunds. And it claims that tracking begins 24 hours after an e-filing, and four weeks after you mailed a paper return.

But the online answer you get may tell you that you’re going to have to be a little patient.

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