How Households Plan To Use Their Refund Checks Depends On Income Level

CHICAGO, March 31, 2021 – Nearly half of U.S. taxpayers (46 percent) plan to add their tax refund check to their savings, according to new survey data from NORC at the University of Chicago. Roughly a third (35 percent) plan to use the check to cover everyday expenses or pay down debt (32 percent).

Looking at the survey data by income level, however, paints a different picture. For households with incomes of less than $30,000, more than half (53 percent) plan to use their refund check to cover everyday bills, while 46 percent say they will use some or all of their check to pay down existing debt. Just over a quarter (27 percent) indicated they would be able to save the money.

“A tax refund means something very different to a household earning $25,000 annually than it does to a household earning more,” says Angela Fontes, vice president of the Economics, Justice, and Society department at NORC at the University of Chicago. “For lower income families, this is money to pay rent or their credit card bill. To higher income folks, this is a bit extra in their savings account.”

Top Five Ways Americans Will Spend Their Tax Refunds

The self-funded poll was conducted between February 25 and March 1, 2021, during a monthly Omnibus survey. It included 1,076 interviews with a nationally representative sample (margin of error +/- 4.09 percent) of adult Americans age 18+ using the AmeriSpeak Panel. AmeriSpeak® is NORC’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. A comprehensive listing of all study questions, tabulations of top-level results for each question, and detailed methodology is available here.

About the AmeriSpeak Spotlight on Personal Finance
NORC at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak® Spotlight on Personal Finance is a series of quick-hitting national surveys on issues vital to finance and investing, conducted using AmeriSpeak’s probability-based panel.

About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

Contact: For more information, contact Eric Young at NORC at or (703) 217-6814 (cell).