After buying a big-screen TV last year with her family’s tax refund, Jodi Flynn decided this year’s $6,200 check would be spent sprucing up the living room furniture.
And buying an iPad. And a smart phone. And putting some away for a rainy day.
“Basically any other time in the year we really don’t have that much cash to make that kind of purchase,” the Georgetown resident said. “We buy the things that we want when we get our taxes back and put the rest in savings. We could have bought more things, but we put a lot into savings.”
She isn’t alone in her desire to beef up her “just-in-case” account.
Forty-two percent of Americans will pad their savings with tax refunds this year instead of buying cars, electronics or furniture, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s up from 40.3 percent who said a year ago they plan to put their tax refund into savings.
And nearly 42 percent of Americans say they plan to pay down or pay off their debt.
That’s exactly what Victoria Underwood decided to do when her family received a $7,000 check from the government. Medical bills were mounting from the birth of her second son, and Underwood was hoping to get at least $2,000 back to make a dent in her family’s growing debt.
When she realized she’d get more than triple that amount, covering the $6,200 in baby bills, there was no other choice than to pay them off.
“It just kept racking up and racking up,” she said. “We would have liked to have bought toys [for our children] or gone on vacation, but that was not an option.”
“I still want to buy things, but it’s going to be much nicer not to worry every week,” Underwood said.
Nationwide, the average refund this year is $3,219, down about $70 from the average return this time a year ago, said Dan Boone, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service.
Though refunds are down just slightly, about 13 percent of Americans plan to pump at least a portion of their check back into the economy.
For Scott’s Furniture in Cleveland, Tenn., last month was one of the best “in a long time,” said office manager Melinda Belk.
“I’m assuming people were using their tax refunds,” she said. “In the last couple of years, people have really held on to what they’ve had ... [but] this month they were buying complete groups, not just one piece.”
Steve Smith, owner of Big Hearted Smitty’s used car lot on Rossville Boulevard, said as much as 20 percent of his business comes during the tax season. Since a lot of people are getting substantial refunds, he said more customers are looking to put more money down than in the past so they can reduce their payments.
“Since business has been a little slow for the last two years, there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Smith said. “This is a time where people who normally aren’t able to accumulate a lot of money get some large tax checks in their bank accounts.”
But business isn’t booming everywhere as many recession-wary consumers are reluctant to make big ticket purchases.
Herb Adcox, owner of Herb Adcox Automotive, said it might just be too early in the tax return season to really see the effects. He said February and March typically aren’t the best months for his pre-owned car dealership, but things begin to turn around in April.
At Meagher and Meagher Furniture in Cleveland, things have been slower than normal, with most sales less than $1,000, said co-owner Don Meagher.
It’s a similar situation at Woodlee’s Appliance in Ooltewah.
“This is probably the worst year ever so far, for us,” Owner Mike Woodlee said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think December, January and February were all kind of lousy. Even when the economic thing first hit, it hurt us, but it wasn’t this bad.”
Brittany Cofer is a business reporter who has been with the Chattanooga Times Free Press since January 2010. She previously worked as a general assignment Metro reporter. In the Business department, she covers banking, retail, tourism, consumer issues and green issues. Brittany is from Conyers, Ga., and spent two years at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., before transferring to the University of Georgia. She graduated from the university’s Grady College of Journalism in December ...