Most Americans are using tax refunds to boost savings or pay off debt, CNBC survey finds


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Most Americans will use their tax refund to bolster their finances amid economic uncertainty, stock market volatility and lingering inflation.  

More than one-third of Americans are saving their tax refund this season and 44% have earmarked the funds to pay off debt or bills, according to the CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey, conducted in partnership with Momentive. 

Those percentages were even higher for younger respondents — closer to one-half for Americans ages 18 to 34 years old — based on the March poll of more than 4,300 consumers.

A recent Bankrate survey also found that tax refunds are important to most Americans’ financial situation, and that paying off debt and boosting savings are top priorities this year, which is similar to past findings.

“People tend to use this money very practically,” said Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at Bankrate. “This is something that we see year after year.”

As of March 31, the IRS had issued nearly 63 million refunds, with an average payment of $2,910, compared to $3,226 at the same point in the filing season last year, the agency reported Friday.

Refunds are down 10% at a time when other costs are up significantly.
Ted Rossman
Senior industry analyst at Bankrate

“Refunds are down 10% at a time when other costs are up significantly,” Rossman said. Although inflation has been trending downward, the annual rate was still at 6% in February, including volatile food and energy costs.

“This may be the largest windfall that a typical household receives all year,” Rossman said. “So it’s unfortunate that the amount is getting smaller at a time when other things are costing more.”

Some 45% of Americans expect to receive or have already received a tax refund this season, according to the CNBC survey.

How to pick between savings and debt payoff

Paying off high-interest debt, like a credit card balance, is “always a prudent option” for your tax refund, said Ken Tumin, founder and editor of, a website that tracks the most competitive options for savings.  

“The average credit card rate is a little bit over 20% these days, which is the highest since we started measuring almost 40 years ago,” Rossman said. “So if you have credit card debt, putting some of this refund money towards that debt is a really good choice.”

Of course, emergency savings is also important, particularly in a shaky economy, Tumin said, noting that it’s a good time to consider a high-yield online savings account, as rates are at their “highest levels in more than a decade.”

Alternatively, you may opt to split your refund between debt payoff and padding your emergency fund, depending on your situation, Rossman added.

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