A new study of consumer spending of tax refunds finds a correlation between how the refunds are perceived and whether taxpayers opt to spend the money right away or save it for later.
The study, from researchers at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business and the Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research, found that how consumers view their tax refund —either as an unexpected “bonus” or money the government owes them—influences their spending habits.
For example, 53 percent of consumers who think of their refund as unexpected money plan to make some sort of purchase with their refund money. In contrast, only 39 percent of consumers who view their tax refund as money they are owed plan to make purchases with their refund money.
“Thus, encouraging consumers to see their refund as more of a bonus than money they are owed may increase consumers’ likelihood of spending their refund money in the marketplace,” said the study.
The study also found that early filers expect larger refunds than those who file closer to Tax Day, and they plan to spend a greater proportion of their refund. Consumers who expected a higher refund amount from their taxes are filing their returns much earlier than those who expected smaller tax refunds. Those who filed earlier are more likely to spend the refund they are getting on purchases, as opposed to saving or investing the money.
When asked about the proportion of their refund that they will allocate toward saving, paying down debt, buying something needed, buying a treat, investing, and contributing to charity, consumers plan to allocate in much as they did in 2014—saving about a third, using a third to pay down debt, and spending the remainder on something they need, buying a treat, investing, etc.
As was the case in 2014, the top three filing methods consumers plan to use are commercial software (such as TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxACT), a paid professional, and the IRS free online filing options. Approximately half of consumers plan to use commercial software, while about one-fifth plan to use a paid professional and about 15 percent plan to file via IRS free online filing.
While only 19.7 percent of consumers changed their filing method in the past five years, the researchers found a general trend where those who switched methods tended to adopt commercial software as their new means of filing taxes.
To download the complete report, click here.
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