Forthwith, some tax-time number-crunching.
The average 2014 federal tax refund is $3,120, according to IRS data as of February 20, and 83 percent of taxpayers – more than 40 million people – are getting them.
A recent survey of by Bankrate.com finds that, of those who anticipate a refund, more would pay down debt and less would splurge on vacations or shopping than in years past.
Bankrate.com tax analyst Kay Bell says the survey shows taxpayers "are doing some pretty responsible things with these funds."
"Whether it's because they are finally recovering from the recession and finally getting a job, or getting a little more money from employers," Bell says, "I think people have realized the need to be more prepared."
Bell acknowledges Bankrate’s survey doesn't follow up to ascertain whether respondents follow through on their pre-refund financial plans.
“Like the IRS, we trust what they say,” she says.
“In surveys, people answer according to what they hope they’ll do, as much as what they actually will do,” Yarrow says. In her own consumer-survey research, she finds that many people’s plans to use a tax refund to pay off debt, save, or invest, are aspirational.
"After the fact, this is what I hear: 'I’ve spent some of it on clothing,’ or ‘I’ve spent it on an evening out, it felt like a windfall.’"
Yarrow says some taxpayers use excessive withholding from their paychecks combined with an anticipated refund, as a strategy to pay for holiday gifts and entertainment. They spend it up on credit during the holidays, then pay off as much of that debt as they can once their tax refund arrives.
Some more key stats from Bankrate's survey:
- 38 percent of taxpayers prefer to receive a big refund. Typically, this means allowing the IRS to withhold more money than is likely necessary from one’s paycheck.
- 43 percent of millennials would accept higher taxes in exchange for free college tuition for all students. A fifth of other adults would agree to that.
- 22 percent of Americans would accept higher taxes to provide free health care to all who need it.