How to put your 2009 tax refund to work

White piggy bank on beach

The economy seems to have turned the corner, which means you can safely spend your 2009 tax refund in all sorts of new and rewarding ways.

The average refund for federal income taxes was $2,683 last year, and there's no reason to think it won't be at least that much this year.

Here are 8 smart ways that money can help you push the dreary days of the recession aside and get on with your life.

Smart move 1. Replenish your emergency savings.

If there's one thing the past year taught us, it's that we need to have at least six months of living expenses on hand to weather life's nasty surprises.

Smart move 2. Pay down high-cost credit card debt.

That is an especially good idea if you owe more now than you did a year ago because you had to charge everyday expenses during the recession.

Our credit card calculators can help you develop a plan for paying off a single credit card or a bunch of credit cards.

Smart move 3. Get a head start on maxing out your Roth IRA.

If you put retirement savings on hold last year, it's time to start investing in your future again. The annual contribution limit is $5,000 for savers under 50 and $6,000 for those over 50.

Smart move 4. Replace your car or truck.

If you nursed your breakdown-prone ride through the recession, using your tax refund as a down payment could help you avoid future repair bills.

Financing a car has never been cheaper with the average interest rate on new- and used-car loans near record lows and the car companies offering lots of discount financing.

Smart move 5. Fix up your home.

Putting money into your home always makes it more valuable -- not to mention more comfortable for you to live in.

Smart move 6. Be charitable.

It's always rewarding to share the wealth. And let's face it. Many of us had to cut back on charitable giving last year.

Just be sure to check out any charity you might want to support with a watchdog group such as the American Institute of Philanthropy

You'll want to make sure your charitable gift is tax deductible, that at least 60% of expenses are spent on charitable programs and that it doesn't cost the organization more than $35 to raise $100.

Smart move 7. Pay extra on your mortgage.

Paying down the principal on your mortgage more quickly won't reduce your minimum monthly payments. But it will save thousands of dollars in interest payments and allow you to pay off your home loan months, if not years, sooner.

See how much you can save with's mortgage calculator.

Smart move 8. Do something fun.

Always wanted to take guitar lessons? Learn how to slice and dice? Need an escape from reality for a couple of days?

You battened down the hatches and survived a difficult economy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a little fun.

You deserve it.

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