After two years of paying down debt and skipping family vacations, many Americans cautiously intend to start spending their tax refunds once again.

According to a new survey by the National Retail Federation, conducted by BIGresearch, 12.5 percent of people expecting a refund plan to treat themselves or their families to a major purchase such as a new television, furniture or car, up from 11 percent last year. Others say they will stash their refund away in savings (40.3 percent), put it toward everyday expenses (28.8 percent) or go on vacation (10 percent). 

The survey also found that 43.9 percent of Americans expecting a refund plan to pay down debt, compared to 48 percent in 2009. However, only 65.5 percent of taxpayers are expecting a refund, down from 68.4 percent last year. 

“A little bit of ‘free money’ will go a long way for Americans this year,” said NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin in a statement. “Retailers planning special promotions over the next few months may find that shoppers are a bit more receptive to opening up their wallets than they have been for the past year.”

As the Internet becomes more of a mainstay in homes across the country, the number of people who file their taxes online continues to increase. This year, 54.4 percent of U.S. taxpayers will file their taxes online, up from 50.1 percent in 2007. In addition, one-third (33.6 percent) of consumers will prepare their taxes using computer software, 23.5 percent will use an accountant, 17.6 percent will use a tax preparation service, and 11.8 percent will have a friend, spouse or other relative prepare their taxes for them and will prepare their taxes by hand. 

According to the survey, 60.6 percent of Americans filed their taxes by the end of February, meaning that many tax returns have already been received or are on the way. An additional 24.4 percent will file in March, and 15 percent will wait until the last minute and file in April.

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