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

February 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer Details

February 15 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2017 Details

February 15 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 15 — All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2017, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 15 — Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-04 by this date to continue your exemption for another year Details

February 19 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) Details

February 28 — All businesses
File information returns (for example, Forms 1099) for certain payments you made during 2017.

February 28 — Payers of gambling winnings.
File Form 1096 along with Copy A of all the Forms W2G you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2G electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — All employers
File Form W3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W2 you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2 electronically, your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — Large food and beverage establishment employers
File Form 8027, Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips. Use Form 8027T, Transmittal of Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips, to summarize and transmit Forms 8027 if you have more than one establishment. If you file Forms 8027 electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31.

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