Eager to spend that tax refund on something? Laura Hendrix has two words for you: Stop. Wait.

“Before giving in to unnecessary spending, make sure you are in a secure financial situation,” said Hendrix, an associate professor of personal finance and consumer economics for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“It’s easy to go on a shopping spree or buy something you’ve wanted all year long,” Hendrix said. “A tax refund is a great opportunity to pay down debt, build your emergency fund, or save toward a goal.”

Hendrix recommends the following tips to make the most of your tax refund:

• Pay down your debt. Use at least part of your refund to make additional payments on any debt that you owe. Pay off or decrease credit card debt. For example, a $3,000 balance at 14.4 percent with a minimum monthly payment of $90 would take 11 years to pay off and cost more than $1,000 in interest charges. Make additional payments to the principal amount on your home or car loan. Pay down debt to make your month more manageable and save money on interest.

• Save for a rainy day. It’s always helpful to have a savings account to draw from when a major car repair bill, medical emergency or other unexpected expense comes along. That way, you don’t have to borrow money and add to your debt-load. Personal finance experts recommend that consumers save enough to cover at least two to six months of expenses.

“A tax refund can be a giant step toward reaching the critical savings goal of building your emergency fund,” she said.

• Save for future financial goals. Give yourself an even bigger return on your tax refund by putting the money into a retirement or investment fund. Your tax refund will continue to grow.

“Dreaming of home ownership, a college education, a new car, a secure retirement?” Hendrix said. “These all come with a price tag. Saving is a way to achieve these goals.”

Hendrix is an accredited financial counselor. For more information on smart ways to use your money, visit www.uaex.edu/Money.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.