As the new American Recovery and Reinvestment law went into effect, American workers began seeing a little more money on each paycheck.
Family economics experts are urging employees to consider a little recovery and reinvestment of their own in the way of personal finance choices.
“Included in the act is the ‘making work pay’ credit, and that credit is unlike the previous stimulus payment that people got a separate check for. This credit will be distributed by reducing income tax withholding from people’s paychecks,” said Dr. Joyce Cavanagh, Texas AgriLife Extension Service family economics specialist.
That means a small amount of money will go to each person on a regular basis with the hopes they will spend it to boost the economy, Cavanagh said. Employers were required to begin using new withholding tables to determine amounts deducted from employee checks by April 1.
The total will amount to $400 for individuals or $800 for people who are married and file joint income tax returns, she said.
The previous economic stimulus program provided the full amount in one check.
“Doing it this way saved the federal government an enormous amount of money simply by not having to send out checks to people who are paid on a regular basis,” said Nancy Granovsky, AgriLife Extension family economics specialist.
Granovsky said for some the extra money will be absorbed into the payment of existing bills - especially for those who have seen increases such as utilities or credit card interest rates. Others will likely save the money to target a specific purchase. Either strategy will be a boost for the American economy.
“And that’s a good thing,” she said. “That would be perceived as the potential stimulus to the economy.”
So with the goal to spend the money, the family economists have a few suggestions to make the most of it:
• Pay down high-interest consumer credit card debt. “Look for where you can get the biggest bang for the buck within your own budget,” Cavanagh said. “For many who may have resorted to using high-interest credit cards to make ends meet, then funneling the money to pay that off faster will certainly reap benefits.”
• Save for retirement. “Even for those who have retirement accounts, they’ve probably taken a hit in the value,” Cavanagh said. “Now is a good time to add to it, and start to reinvest in the market.”
• Set aside funds for emergencies. “Get serious about building up emergency savings,” Granovsky said, “especially if a person is concerned about the stability of their jobs.” She said this is a good option for those who have already paid off credit accounts. “Everyone should have an emergency fund because there will always be some kind of emergency in family finance.”
• Save for a first-time home purchase. “The act offers a credit of $8,000 for first-time home buyers,” Granovsky said. The home has to be purchased by Dec. 31 and the credit can be claimed on the 2008 or 2009 tax return. “This is a flat-out credit that does not have to be repaid like previous credits of this type.”
She noted that because real estate in some areas have fallen in value, this credit could be an attractive offer.
For those who have their financial situation in order, the duo said, “that’s an enviable position. Go spend the extra money on consumer goods.”
“There are lots of sales right now, and the retailers need it,” Granovsky said.