Spend it or stash it?
Tax season is traditionally a time when money goes out of our pockets. But this week, the first round of rebate checks began rolling out to millions of Americans who qualify for the government’s economic stimulus program. These rebates range from up to $600 for an individual to $1,200 for married couples and $300 for dependent children, and are being processed according to the last two digits of a taxpayer’s Social Security number. Taxpayers who requested direct deposit will be receiving their rebates over the next two weeks, while those receiving paper checks – approximately two-thirds of the nation’s taxpayers – will have to wait a little longer. According to the IRS schedule, paper checks will start going out on May 9 and will continue to be sent through mid-July.According to IRS statistics, 130 million households qualify for a piece of the government’s $168 billion stimulus package, which is intended to encourage spending and give a boost to the consumer side of a flagging economy.For Summit County business owners, these rebates may provide a welcome shot in the economic arm, coming as they do simultaneously alongside the dreaded annual advent of mud season – when consumerism crawls to a virtual standstill, as ski resorts close and second homeowners and tourists pack up and return to the big city.The prevailing feeling among local retailers and restaurateurs seems to be that the rebates may help – just as long as people view them as disposable income. But with escalating food and gas prices, the fear is that folks might decide to stash their checks, rather than spend them.For Lodema Cullum, owner of Funky Trunk Boutique, a new and nearly-new clothing and consignment shop on Main Street in Frisco, the rebate checks may provide a triple benefit.”We’re going to do something smart with ours – we’re buying a new hot water heater,” she said. “But a friend of ours is going to use her check as a down payment and buy our Ford minivan from us. This will help us pay off our credit cards, so I’m really excited about it.”Cullum hopes that her business will benefit from the rebates as well.”Everybody is saying ‘Don’t spend it,’ but the whole point is to put more money into our economy, so we’re hoping that people will spend it,” she said. “I hear a lot of people say that when they get their check they’ll buy some clothes for spring – so I hope this will help bring us some business.”Karen Berg, who owns Next Page Bookstore on Main Street in Frisco, expressed a similar wish.”We haven’t earmarked our rebate for anything yet, but I would hope that when we do get it we would make a plan to do something tangible with it – and I hope that other people will do the same thing and come out and spend it on something they want to buy,” she said. “We hope they’ll get out in Frisco Main Street and go shopping.”And while everyone seems to welcome the rebate, some have expressed serious skepticism about where the money for the economic stimulus program is coming from. Joyce Mosher, an associate professor of English communications at Colorado Mountain College Breckenridge campus, voiced her fears that the rebate money might be draining another important reservoir – such as Social Security funding – dry.”I hope that President Bush doesn’t think that this is rebate going to purchase any votes in my household,” Mosher said. “Yes, we appreciate it, but it will not purchase any support for him from us.”The way we plan to stimulate the American economy is to go to France for three weeks,” she added. “We’ll consider ourselves as ambassadors abroad, and the rebate will be spent towards cross-cultural healing and damage control.”Frisco resident Drew Bruce hasn’t yet received his rebate, but he was happy enough just to get his tax refund this week. “The first thing I did was pay a couple of months on my credit card,” said Bruce, who works at FedEx/Kinko’s in Dillon. “I also paid the electric bill and my fiancée’s cell phone bill. We’re trying to spend as little of it as possible, but we’re going on a camping trip to Moab this weekend, so I know we’ll be spending some of it on gas. When we get the stimulus check, I guess we’ll plan on using some of it for bills, too.”Bank of the West manager Cindy Klinedinst, who works at the Frisco branch, filed an extension on her taxes, so she isn’t planning on receiving her rebate anytime soon. But when it does come, she says that she already has plans for spending it.”My husband Daryl has had his eye on a tractor for our ranch,” she said. “The check won’t cover even one-tenth of it, but it will be enough to make a down payment on it.”For Martha Garcia, a teller at the Bank of the West in Frisco, the rebate check will be something to stash, not spend.”I haven’t gotten it yet, but I think I’m going to put it into a savings account for my three children, Monique, Antoinette and Alyssa,” she said. “We may pay a couple of bills, but the rest will all go to them.”No matter what you plan on doing with your rebate, the good news is that the check is in the mail – or soon will be. And even if you haven’t yet filed your tax returns for 2008, you can still get a rebate, as long as you file by Oct. 15. In addition, if you don’t owe taxes and didn’t file for that reason, according to the IRS you might still qualify for a rebate, so filing for everyone is encouraged. For more information on how you can still qualify, you can visit the IRS website, http://www.IRS.gov.
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