As of the end of April, the IRS reports it has returned almost $255 billion in overpaid taxes to almost 92 million U.S. workers for the 2022 tax year.

And while that sounds like a lot, the size of individual refunds are running well below last year’s with the average check coming in at $2,777 as of the week ending on April 28 versus the $3,019 average refund amount for 2021 filers.

The IRS issued a public heads-up back in January, reminding filers that a slew of pandemic-era government subsidies, including stimulus checks, tax breaks and expanded credits, timed out in 2021. The federal tax collecting entity said the adjustment could lead to refund shock, or balances due, for many U.S. taxpayers this time around even as it made some inflation-driven adjustments to tax brackets.

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A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll asked Utah voters who were expecting returns this year how they planned to put the money to use and, while the responses were varied, one category easily outpaced all others.

Among those expecting to get refund checks after filing their 2022 returns, 32% of poll participants said they’d be stashing the money in savings accounts while the next biggest use of refunds, at 20%, was paying down outstanding debt. Paying bills like rent or utilities was the choice for 15% of respondents, 12% said they’d use the money to fund home improvement projects, and 6% said their refund spending plans were aiming for discretionary/non-essential items.

The statewide poll was conducted April 23-28 by Dan Jones and Associates of 800 registered Utah voters. The results come with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.

Plans for federal tax refunds shared by Utahns were mostly similar to a national survey conducted by Bankrate.com in February, though respondents in that polling were more likely to be paying down debt with their refund cash (28%) than putting it into savings (26%).

Interestingly, while Utahns are carrying credit card debt that puts the state in the lower half of the nation at $5,600 per credit card holder on average, according to Experian, Utahns rank in the top five in the country at $64,567 per person for overall outstanding debt, per data collected by Credit Karma.

While she’s not currently paying off a mortgage, Farmington resident Emma Roberts told the Deseret News she and her husband are saving for a downpayment on their first home and directed most of their refund into a savings account dedicated to that effort.

“We basically just put it into savings,” Roberts says. “We’re renting right now and working on saving for a downpayment.”

Roberts said she and her spouse know they’re facing “the worst time to be a young, married couple” when it comes to their pursuit of a first home amid a Utah housing market that’s still seeing sky-high prices even after dropping from all-time peaks last year.

“We’re really lucky to have an apartment that’s very inexpensive and we don’t have a ton of debt,” Roberts said. “But, with prices where they are in our area right now we don’t expect to find a place we can afford anytime soon.”

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Roberts said the extra savings also provides some comfort as a financial safety net to help cover any unexpected expenses.

And that’s a strategy endorsed by Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman who said building savings, along with paying down high interest debt, is an effective way for tax refund recipients to deploy that extra cash.

“Think of every dollar you pay down as a guaranteed, tax-free return of whatever your interest rate happens to be,” Rossman said in Bankrate’s analysis of tax refund data. “Increasing your savings is an important, and related, priority as well.

“If you don’t have enough savings (and our research shows most people don’t), then your next unexpected expense might well land on a credit card, which sets the debt cycle into motion.”

Clearfield resident Andrea Archuleta said her refund this year was originally headed toward paying down outstanding debt but that plan was upended by some unexpected veterinarian bills.

Archuleta also noted that even though she and her husband have seen recent wage growth it wasn’t keeping up with ongoing, record-high inflation, and their federal tax refunds were just not the windfall they have been in previous years.

“We’re making manageable payments and keeping up, but the goalposts just keep moving,” Archuleta said. “If you have one emergency setback, you could be done for.”