Most Consumers: Rebate Checks No Economic Stimulus

September 11, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Financial Services | Regulatory | Retail & E-Commerce | Travel & Hospitality

This spring, US consumers were excited about tax rebate checks – a Harris Poll found that 45% said the checks would help stimulate the economy – but now that summer is over and most stimulus rebate checks are cashed, attitudes have changed, a new Harris Poll finds?(via Retailer Daily).

More than half of Americans (52%) say spending the checks did not stimulate the economy and 37% say it did, according to a nationwide Harris Poll of 2,710 US adults surveyed online August 11-17.

Among the findings:

  • More than half of Republicans (52%) say rebate checks did stimulate the economy while three in five Democrats (61%) and over half of Independents (56%) say they did not:


  • In April, just under three-quarters (73%) of Americans predicted they would receive payment; 71% now say they did receive a rebate check.


  • Some seven in ten Americans with incomes of $34,999 or less and incomes of $75,000 or more (70% each) say they received a check.
  • More than four in five adults with incomes of between $35,000 and $49,999 (86%) and between $50,000 and $74,999 (87%) say they received rebate checks.

How the Checks Were Spent

Though the government expressed a hope that the checks would be spent to spur the economy, what actually took place was slightly different.

What was predicted in April:


  • Americans said they would use some of the rebate to reduce their non-mortgage debt, paying off bills or credit cards (38%) or adding to their cash savings (35%).
  • One in five (21%) said they would spend the money on other things they wanted to buy.
  • 20% said they would use the rebate to take a leisure trip.
  • 17% said they would spend their money on home improvements.
  • 16% said they would use the money in restaurants and for dining out.
  • One in ten said they would use the money for technology devices or entertainment events.

What happened in August:


  • People primarily used their rebate checks to reduce non-mortgage debt, such as paying off bills or credit cards (36%) and to add to their cash savings (29%).
  • One in five (21%) did actually spend the money on other things they wanted to buy.
  • Just one in ten (11%) actually used the rebate to take a trip for leisure purposes.
  • Americans spent their money on home improvements (14%) and in restaurants and dining out (12%).
  • Only 5% said they used the money for technology devices or entertainment events.

Harris Analysis/Commentary

As predicted, much of the rebate money ended up deposited in savings or being mailed to credit card issuers. Retailers did try to get some of the rebate money, but that did not end up occurring as much as they, and probably the White House, wanted.

The economy is still one of the most important issues facing the country. With the economic uncertainty, Americans thought they would want to put away some cash and help reduce debt and that is exactly what they did.

What seemed like a great economic fix in the earlier part of the year has not panned out, and Americans are still looking for Congress and the White House to provide some relief – but with the November elections just two months away, it is unlikely that either will be able to actually do something that will help voters before the election.

How voters react to that inaction will definitely affect their behavior in November.

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