Just like the stores had Easter candy out before Valentine’s Day was over, tax time is coming soon. April 15 – or 17 – thanks to that oh-so-generous government extension that was granted for the filing of 2011 returns – is only a couple months away.

For many families, tax time is not as painful as it could have been, since last minute measures were enacted to protect some tax credits that may put money in your pocket. But before you get too excited about how to spend that money, we’d like to suggest doing something painfully responsible with your tax return.

We know, the dream vacation or the new car would be a lot more fun.

But a good tax return can really help to turn a bad credit score into a good one, and taking advantage of tax time in such a practical way doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream – just postpone it for a year. You’ll not only improve your credit score, but what financing you do get the next year will cost you less because of it. And really, given how quickly tax time comes each year, the time will fly by.

Depending on the size of your return, you can either pay off some smaller credit card balances completely or you may want to pay off enough on the balance of each of your credit cards to make sure they are each at less than 50% of the limit available. There is no one measure more critical to your credit score than keeping at least 50% of the credit line free.

In the short term, your tax return might by you some fun, but in the long term, if you put it to work for you by putting the return toward your credit card balances, it can significantly change your financial future. Better credit scores mean lower interest rates, better auto insurance rates, and better refinancing options for your home. Better credit ratings can even mean getting that job versus being overlooked (except in California, where it is now illegal to use credit scores in making hiring decisions).

This tax season, invest in yourself and your financial future. And next year, you can send us a postcard from Europe as you enjoy your dream vacation that is costing you less thanks to better credit!

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