NEW YORK (MainStreet) Tax season is upon us, but that's not such a bad thing for Americans receiving a big, fat refund check from Uncle Sam. According to the IRS, more than 48 million tax refunds had been issued by the end of February and as of February 28, the average refund this year is $3,034, up 3% compared to the average refund amount for the same time last year.
Of course, tax refunds are not a gift from the IRSyou're simply getting back your own money that you've loaned to the government interest-free throughout the year. Still, refund checks can seem like a generous boost to your finances when they finally arrive in the mail. Not quite sure how you'll spend your tax refund? You might want to take inspiration from the seven everyday Americans MainStreet spoke with recently. From home improvement projects to family vacations, here's how they're putting their refund checks to good use this year.
Name: Matt Becker
Occupation: Founder of Mom and Dad Money
"I actually lost my previous job in November. Me, my wife and our two sons are living off our savings right now as I get my fee-only financial planning practice going. Normally our tax refund goes into one of our savings buckets, but this year it's being used to increase the amount of time we have to get my business up and running. Our refund should provide us with just over a half month's worth of personal living expenses, which gives us a little bit more of a cushion as I try to get my business off the ground."
Name: Kimberly Gauthier
Location: Marysville, Wash.
Occupation: Blogger for Keep the Tail Wagging
"This year, I had two plans for my refundto replace the flooring in two rooms of our home and the other half went to my savings account.
"I thought about paying down a credit card, paying off my car loan or splurging at the mall, but given the economy, saving the refund sounded like the best idea. Although they say our economy is turning around, I'm still seeing people losing their jobs.
"Replacing the flooring was just good sense. We have four dogs, and dogs plus carpeting equals a wet dog smell all year long. We opted for a tile that looks like hardwoodsit's gorgeous and has texture to keep it from being slippery for the dogs to walk on like traditional tile. Instead of paying for regular carpet cleaning, our house will be easier to clean, leaving me with more time to do important things: walking our dogs, working out and building my freelance writing business."
Name: Seshat Walker
Location: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Creative strategist
"Our family plans to use our tax refund towards bills, home improvement and travel. We want to take our two kids to a different place each weekend this summer.
"We want to paint our upstairs and make a gallery wall. We also plan to remove those annoying doors in our shower. We plan to do some landscaping to both the front yard and backyard by adding sod, some stones, flowers and a small garden. And we can't wait to build our fire pit.
"We hope to do a lot of road trips even though we don't own a car, so we may bus and train it most of the time. We would like to go Philly, because my children and husband have never had an official cheesesteak. We definitely want to go back to New York and hang properly. We also need to drive to North Carolina to visit my uncle and my brother in law, and we have to try and hit a real beach before the summer ends."
Name: David Neuman
Location: Great Neck, N.Y.
Occupation: Social media manager for Prime Visibility
"I plan on using my refund entirely to fund my flights for my honeymoon to Santorini, Greece, and the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I'll be flying from New York to Greece, from Greece to Italy, and then from Italy back to New York. I heard the views of Santorini are unlike anywhere else in the world. I'm looking forward to seeing it in person along with relaxing for ten days with my soon-to-be wife."
Name: Stephanie Jones
Location: Kouts, Ind.
Occupation: Senior manager for Cisco Systems; life coach and motivational speaker for Giving Gal, LLC
"This is how my husband and I are planning to spend our tax refund of almost $5,000: $500 to charity, $3,250 to pay down our mortgage, $500 for our vacation fund and $750 for a new iPad.
"We support a number of charities throughout the year, but we will probably use some of the refund for our annual donation to the Gary Dudley Memorial Foundation. Gary was an Indiana state trooper who was killed in the line of duty. We also have a location in mind for our vacationwe are planning to travel to Montana this summer."
Name: Kelli Bhattacharjee
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Occupation: Blogger for Freebie Finding Mom
"My family will be heading to Disney World with our tax refund. This will be our first family vacation with our son who's turning two years old. He's such a Mickey fanwe can't wait to take him. We are also bringing our babysitter with us so my husband and I can get away occasionally as well. Having another person along is an added expense, but we saved for this so that this trip would still feel like a vacation for us too. We will be leaving in mid-May and will also be hitting up Sea World and enjoying the pool at our hotel."
Name: Jeff Zerbisch
Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
Occupation: Law firm office manager
"I've needed a new car for about two years now. I'll be getting about $1,800 back as a tax refund and I'm going to use a service called Swapalease.com to take over someone's car lease. I can maximize my tax refund because there is no down payment. I'll be putting the $1,800 toward the monthly payments, which will hopefully be about $250 monthly."
--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet