by Sally Herigstad

Your taxes are done, and let's hope you're getting a refund.

Now the big question is: What's the best use of your tax refund?

Being the savvy money manager you are, you're looking for ways that your tax windfall can help you get ahead. You may splurge a little, but you see this as a chance to improve your finances for the long haul.

Whether your refund is large or small, here are some ideas for getting the most from yours:

1. Pay off high interest debt

It may not be exciting, but it's at the top of the list for a reason. High interest debt can kill your financial future if you let it.

If you're paying 18%, 24%, or even more interest on consumer debt, use your refund to pay it off.

Yes, consumer debt includes car loans. If you owe more in consumer debt than you can pay off immediately, make a plan to pay it off as quickly as you can.

2. Invest in yourself

Can you make yourself more valuable at work by taking a class, getting a certification, or learning a new skill?

If you don't like your job, use your tax refund to get started in a new career, or to start a small business. Tweet this

3. Stop money from going out the window

If your house isn't weatherized, your money is literally going out the window – and through the ceiling, up the drafty fireplace.

You may be able to get free advice from your local power company about the most cost-effective ways to save money on heating and cooling your house.

Sometimes just another layer of insulation in the attic can keep your warmer for less money.

4. Check for other home repairs

Fix leaky faucets, change the furnace and air conditioning filters, and take care of any other little problems before they become big, expensive problems.

5. Start an investment account

If you haven't started investing on a regular basis, now's a great time to start.

Don't wait until you have more money to start learning about stocks and other investments and get in the habit of adding to your account.

Not many years ago, it was difficult to invest in the stock market with small amounts, because the commissions on stock sales made it prohibitive.

Now, you can do online investing with very modest amounts and still get ahead.

6. Contribute to your retirement plan

What better time to tuck money away for retirement than when you have an unexpected windfall? You were getting along without it before, let's hope you won't miss it now.

7. Invest in do-it-yourself equipment

Equipment like a sewing machine, a set of home repair tools, and canning supplies can make you more self-sufficient.

They'll pay for themselves over and over as you save money by doing things yourself.

8. Start a garden

If you haven't gardened before, you may be surprised what it costs for some shovels, seeds and berry bushes, and odds and ends.

You can use those tools and supplies for years, however, and enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

9. Get preventative car maintenance done

Safety is always top priority, so get new tires if you need them, and make sure your car is in good shape for another year.

You may be able to avoid more expensive car repairs in the future by taking good care of your car now.

Is your tax refund more or less this year than in previous years? Were you surprised?

If you'd like to join in on the discussion around this post, we'd love to see you in the conversation over on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

Photo credit: fatboyke (Luc) via photopin cc

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Upcoming Tax Dates

April 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

April 10 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of March.

April 14 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of March.

April 18 — Individuals
File a 2016 income tax return (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6 month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. For more information, see Form 4868. Then, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by October 16.

April 18 — Corporations
File a 2016 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax due. Details

April 18 — Individuals
If you are not paying your 2017 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2017 estimated tax. Use Form 1040ES.

April 18 — Household Employers
f you paid cash wages of $1,800 or more in 2016 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H Details

April 18 — Corporations
Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2017 Details

April 18 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 18 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 18 — Household employers
If you paid cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2016 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H (Form 1040). If you are required to file a federal income tax return (Form 1040), file Schedule H (Form 1040) with the return and report any household employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H (Form 1040) if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2015 or 2016 to household employees. Also, report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.

April 27 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of March.

April 29 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of April.

View More Tax Dates