For a lot of Americans, the $600 check that just landed in our bank accounts could do some good, at least in the short term.
The cash infusion from the federal government could help pay bills, buy groceries, make the rent — generally hold it together for a little longer in a pandemic-addled world.
But what if you’re lucky enough to not really need the stimulus check that Uncle Sam sent?
Consider how taxpayers used last year’s $1,200 check. Like the current one, it was meant to stimulate the economy by spreading around some spending cash in a year that was pretty much a dumpster fire.
According to data from the New York Federal Reserve as reported by Forbes, 29 percent of Americans used that first check for consumer spending. But 36 percent opted to save it, while 35 percent used it to reduce their debt.
For those who did go for consumer spending, 18 percent put it toward necessary living expenses, 8 percent for hobbies, leisure and vacation, and 3 percent donated it to charity.
So what to do with this latest check?
Financial experts seem to agree on at least this: Anyone who needs it for bills should use it for bills.
Plenty of us will be tempted by shiny objects, or at least purchases that make us happy — like, say, a very large television. And given the year we left behind and the hurdles ahead, it’s hard to argue against a little self-indulgence.
But here’s one practical suggestion from some experts: Consider starting a household emergency fund for unexpected car or home repairs or events you didn’t see coming, since not seeing it coming was last year in a nutshell. (Speaking of which, have you seen those brilliant TV commercials that pair up 2020 with Satan in a perfect internet love match? Yes, it was like that.)
If you don’t have a pressing need to spend the money, “absolutely save it,” said Chris Jones, president of Florida Economic Advisors and an instructor in the University of South Florida’s Economics Department.
Spending it right away gives the economy that short-term boost, but saving it gives banks more money to lend and can help to lower interest rates, he said.
“When we spend, we help the economy in the short run, and when we save, we help the economy in the long run,” he said.
By the way, financial types don’t necessarily agree on the best course for found bounty. Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank recently recommended to CNBC that people use it to pay down credit card debt if they can, while celebrity financial guru Suze Orman told Grow that the first priority is “save, save, save.”
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If you want to get that money into the economy quicker, Jones suggests improving your home, a home being a big asset, or investing in yourself by getting more education to be more marketable in a changing world.
The coronavirus crisis hit nonprofits hard, particularly those that have been safety nets in the pandemic. Anyone considering charitable giving to organizations such as food banks or domestic violence shelters can consult Charity Navigator at charitynavigator.org. It evaluates charitable organizations across the country and has a nifty search tool, too.
A $600 donation to Metropolitan Ministries, one of the area’s largest nonprofits that helps the poor and homeless, “would go directly to help families in need with rent and utility assistance,” said Justine Burke, vice president of marketing. They have seen “a tremendous influx of need since April,” she said — with 60 percent of those people having never had to ask for help before.
At the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, $600 would pay for lifesaving treatment for a dog with heartworms, said executive director Sherry Silk.
“There’s so many medical things it could do for us,” she said. “I mean, it would be wonderful.”