SunTrust: Americans Split on How They Will Use 2016 Tax Refunds

Twenty-five percent of Americans who expect to receive a tax refund in 2017 plan to make a major purchase before receiving the money, according to a new SunTrust Banks, Inc. (NYSE: STI) survey conducted online by Harris Poll in January. This percentage rises to 36 percent for millennials ages 18 to 34, and to 40 percent for Gen Xers ages 35 to 44.

According to IRS data, Americans qualifying for refunds received an average of $2,735 last year. SunTrust found that 60 percent of Americans expecting a 2016 tax refund this year plan to save at least half of it, signaling that saving is currently a key priority for many individuals.

SunTrust is leading the onUp movement across America to help people build financial confidence through healthy money habits.

“We know from previous research that 51 percent of Americans don’t have $2,000 on hand to cover an emergency,” said Brian Nelson Ford, financial well-being executive at SunTrust. “Tax refunds present a perfect time to quickly fund a confidence account that can be used for emergencies.”

Ford added, “Saving part of your tax refund can give you peace of mind by helping to prepare you for either an unexpected expense or a positive opportunity. Rewarding yourself is also a strategy to stay motivated, so consider putting a portion of your refund toward a splurge or something you need but have delayed buying.”

To best manage a cash windfall such as a tax refund, SunTrust suggests the following:

1. Don’t spend the money before it arrives. Whether you’re looking forward to a tax refund or bonus, wait until the money is in your account before using the funds. Tax refunds can get delayed or lost in the mail, resulting in unnecessary credit card balances, and you are more likely to make a smarter decision if the money is in your possession.

2. Transfer your refund into a savings account. If your refund was deposited electronically into a checking account, don’t let it sit there while you decide how to use it. Transfer the money to a savings account to earn higher interest – or even a six month certificate of deposit – until you know how to divide it across spending, saving and debt.

3. Ask for advice. You may be a do-it-yourself type, but sometimes it’s better to get an outsider’s perspective. Set up a meeting with a personal banker who can help you decide whether it’s better to save, invest or pay down debt – or all three.

4. Anticipate future expenses. Recognize that 2017 will likely bring unexpected expenses that you won’t be able to meet with your normal cash flow. Cars need repairs and roofs sometimes leak. Everybody deals with unwelcome expenses, but it is possible to prepare for them. Saving a good portion of your tax refund can help you stay ahead of the financial curve.

5. When in doubt, use the 50/20/30 formula. If you can’t decide how to use the refund, consider applying this formula: use 50 percent to pay down debt; 20 percent to save; and 30 percent to spend. With balance, there is nothing wrong with spending a little on yourself.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust from January 10-12, 2017, among 2,174 U.S. adults ages 18 and older – and among whom 1,650 expect to receive a tax refund this year. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.