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Poll: Tax Refunds Go Toward Debt Reduction

Many taxpayers also plan to tuck money into savings

With the 2011 tax season upon us, more than one in two federal income tax filers said they expect to get a refund, and most planned to pay down debt or save it, according to an AARP Bulletin poll.

Others who were surveyed opted not to bolster their bottom line. They planned to spend their refund on a major expense (21 percent) or on day-to-day living (16 percent).

The survey of 1,010 people age 21 and older was conducted in late February to assess Americans' tax-filing habits and other related issues. At that time, more than one in three (37 percent) had filed their federal income tax returns. Of those who hadn't filed returns yet, 81 percent said they expected to file by the April 18 deadline. Five percent said they would request an extension.

Tax filers between the ages of 21 and 49 were more likely (69 percent) than adults 50-plus (44 percent) to expect a refund, the poll found. But older respondents (37 percent) were more likely than those under age 50 (21 percent) to say they planned to save most of that money.

Among those under age 50, one in three surveyed (35 percent) said they'll pay down debt with their refund, compared with one in four older adults (26 percent). Twenty-four percent of younger adults said they'll spend their refund on something major versus 16 percent of those over 50.

One-third of those polled didn't expect a refund, and nearly one in 10 didn't know if one would be forthcoming.

Asked about the federal budget deficit, nearly half of respondents (49 percent) said they think spending cuts alone will close the gap. But 38 percent said that they believe taxes will also need to be raised.

Elizabeth Young, 64, and her husband, Sam, 88, earn a comfortable income from their real estate development company and investments. She said they should be expected to pay more in taxes, since their income is higher than that in most U.S. households.

"Taxes on those of us who earn more ... should certainly be raised," said Young, of Keene, Calif., about 30 miles from Bakersfield. "Don't you think it's unfair that my husband and I, with no dependent children, pay less in the percentage of taxes than two schoolteachers with children in college?"

Among other poll findings:

  • The majority of income tax filers rely on professional tax preparers (32 percent) or accountants (22 percent) to do their returns.
  • More than one-third (36 percent) said they or their spouse prepare their own tax return.
  • One in 10 reported knowing someone who has cheated on their income taxes.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the
AARP Bulletin.

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