Surprise! Americans (Really) Love Getting Tax Refunds

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Disney fans and anyone with kids may remember the “DuckTales” episode where Donald Duck’s cousin Gladstone keeps randomly finding twenty-dollar bills everywhere he goes. “Look, twenty dollars!” he exclaims with delight each time. 

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It turns out Americans are not that different from that notoriously lucky cartoon duck. In a recent survey, Americans said the best surprise in life is randomly finding money. The study, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Affirm, a flexible, digital financial services company, discovered that 49% of 2,000 people polled said that finding money on the street or in a forgotten coat pocket is the best surprise.

A tax refund was named the next favorite surprise, said 46% of respondents, and 58% said no matter the amount, it’s always a pleasant surprise. 

Other, non-financial, favorite surprises included: 

  • Surprise parties
  • Surprise visits from family or friends
  • Engagements

Plan Ahead to Avoid Financial Surprises

With careful planning, the amount of your tax refund doesn’t have to be a surprise, though. You should have a rough idea of how much you’ll be getting to help you plan for spending or saving the windfall. If you aren’t sure, speak with a tax accountant about ways to reduce your tax liability and increase your refund. 

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Tactics may include increasing your withholding taxes on your paycheck, so you take home less money each pay period but won’t owe money at tax time. You could also contribute to a 401K or other pre-tax retirement plan to reduce your taxable income.

Active tax planning might take some of the fun out of the surprise, but it could also help alleviate tax season worries and help you avoid one of the worst surprises ever: finding out you owe money when you file your taxes. 

“It is no surprise that tax season can spark conflicting emotions,” said Silvija Martincevic, Chief Commercial Officer at Affirm. “Fifty-eight percent of respondents are always surprised when they get a refund, regardless of the amount, but the top emotion respondents feel when they owe money after doing their taxes is annoyance.” 

Other money matters also landed in the top three of “worst surprises,” according to the survey. Getting a bill that’s higher than you thought it would be ranked number one, with 57% of people naming it as their worst surprise. Getting hit with a late fee on a credit card earned 37% of the votes.  

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How Americans Plan to Use their Tax Refunds

The Affirm survey also touched on how Americans plan to spend their tax refunds. The pandemic seems to have made Americans more conscious than ever about planning for contingencies and saving money, because 43% said they will put their tax refund into a savings account. 

Online savings apps like Affirm, backed by Cross River Bank, an FDIC-insured savings institution, make it easier to earn more interest on short-term savings accounts, offering a 0.65% yield, which the company says is 13 times the national average. “For those looking to save, our high-yield savings account requires no minimum deposit and never charges fees,” Martincevic said in the press release detailing the survey. 

Of those who planned to save their tax refund, 74% said they were putting it into emergency savings, while 46% were saving for a wedding or baby, 45% for travel, and 39% for home upgrades. 

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The total percentage was greater than 100, as respondents could make more than one selection. Making a credit card payment, investing the money, and donating to charity all ranked second on the list, with 40% of respondents planning to spend at least some of their tax refund in one or more of these ways.

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
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