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The many uses for tax refunds

By Kay Bell ·
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Posted: 4 pm ET

The filing delays caused by Congress not dealing with "fiscal cliff" issues until early January has meant taxpayer refunds also are delayed.

But even though more folks might be waiting for their tax refunds this year, they still have definite plans as to what they want to do with the money when it finally arrives.

Depending on which survey you believe, we -- and I'm using the collective "we" -- will save the money, use it to pay basic necessities, pay down debt or splurge.

Let's splurge!

For the third year in a row, Capital One Bank's annual taxes and savings survey found  that most Americans (85 percent) expect to get a refund and more than a third (35 percent) plan to spend all or part of it.

Of those who say they will spend their tax refunds, 70 percent plan to use it for such things as taking a vacation (23 percent) or buying clothing and accessories (16 percent), electronics (15 percent) or other major purchases (16 percent).

Other surveys, however, found taxpayers more inclined to save or use their refunds for more practical purposes.

Let's save it or pay down debt!

Forty-five percent of those polled by American Consumer Credit Counseling said they will use their 2013 tax refund to pay down their credit card debt. Another 26 percent said they will put their tax cash directly into savings.

A survey commissioned by Cricket Wireless found that more than half of taxpayers nationwide plan to use federal refund money to pay bills. Taxpayers in the Northeast and South were the most focused on bills, with 65 percent of survey respondents in those regions saying they will use their Internal Revenue Service refund to pay bills.

The telecommunications company's survey also found that younger people are feeling the most basic-necessities pressure, with 69 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds reporting bills as their main concern.

USAA, the financial services company that focuses on members of the U.S. military and their families, also found some demographic differences when it comes to this year's tax refunds.

Younger taxpayers less pessimistic

Overall, American taxpayers are less optimistic about this year's tax refund than they were last year, according to the latest USAA poll. More than half of those surveyed (53 percent) expect to receive a smaller refund than they did in 2012.

"It’s interesting, but not surprising, to see the negative sentiment among taxpayers," says Scott Halliwell, a Certified Financial Planner professional at USAA. "With all that's taken place in Washington over the past few months, a lot of people are confused and concerned about how it will impact their taxes. Continued economic volatility and ambiguity around the effects of sequestration have many confused and concerned about their tax refunds. Interestingly, Gen Xers appear to be much more skeptical about their refunds than their younger millennial counterparts."

According to the survey results, nearly 65 percent of Gen Xers, those individuals between ages 35 and 44, expect a smaller refund than last year, compared to 42 percent of their millennial peers, who are in the 18-to-34 age range. In fact, 56 percent of millennial taxpayers expect the same or higher refund amount this year.

And these kids today apparently are savers.

The USAA survey found that in addition to increased optimism about a higher return, 63 percent of millennials plan to stash their tax cash in savings. That's an 11 percent increase over last year.

Have you gotten your refund check from the U.S. Treasury yet? Will it be more or less than last year's amount? What do you plan to do with your tax refund?


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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book "The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes" and a co-author of the e-book "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."

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1 Comment
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April 07, 2013 at 6:20 pm

#1 use for tax refund - take the amount and divide it by the number of paychecks you receive during the year (12, 24, 26...whatever). Then decrease your W-4 withholding by the same amount so next year when you file your taxes, your liability / refund is closer to zero. You'll appreciate the extra monthly income much more.