Friday, April 18, 2014

Figures Don't Lie, but...

Last time I was enthusiastic about a sign of better discipline among Americans, that 84% of those receiving income tax refunds planned to use them to pay down debt according to a Bankrate article.  Although I hate to put a damper on such good news, I may have to rethink my position and should surely have been a little more careful.

Since this is the week of the tax deadline, other articles and statistics also appeared along the same lines.  From the USA Today/Gannett on Friday (April 11), the chart shown here tells a different story.  About 58% intend to pay down debt or save the refund.  This is more than half, but quite a bit less than the 84% from Bankrate.  This information looks reliable with references listed as: Internal Revenue Service; H&R Block; Tax Foundation; Tax Policy Center;; Giving USA; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Pew Charitable Trusts.

A few days later on April 15, another small box ran in the USA Today with this information based on a Capital One Bank survey of over 1000 people.  Now only 40% intend to save a majority of it and 42% show up as spenders.  What’s up with all these discrepancies?
The lesson for me and for all of us is one I covered way back in October 2011.  Surveys and polls cannot be totally trusted.  Even if they have an adequate sample size and the professional pollsters have gone to great lengths to ensure a representative sample, other problems may still arise.  When self-reporting, people are not always honest.  Sometimes they want to impress the questioners, as it could be in this case, or even shock them, as may be the case with drug polls of teenagers.  Even when they are trying to make every effort to be honest, the wording of the polling question can influence people – choice of words or introductory phrases can imply the intention of the question.  The order in which the survey presents the questions can develop a mood or a pattern.  Outside events or experiences also can influence the mood or opinion of the survey subjects, for example, opposition to gun ownership peaks shortly after a highly publicized shooting incident.

I’m glad many people are making responsible decisions about the use of their tax refunds, but in retrospect, I’m really not sure if it’s a majority or not.

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