Americans were budget and money conscious with their tax returns this year, according to a survey by American Consumer Credit Counseling, a national financial education nonprofit organization.

The online survey revealed that 69% of consumers used their tax refund to pay down debt and get ahead on monthly expenses such as rent, utilities and car payments, while only 16% splurged and bought themselves something.

Of the 179 consumers surveyed, 11% reported owing more taxes after filing and 14% did not receive a refund. Of those respondents who owed the government money, the majority, 19%, owed between $100 to $499. When asked if the amount of taxes paid was fair, nearly half of respondents, 46%, actually said they thought they paid an appropriate amount.

"It's encouraging that so many consumers are making smart decisions with their money by opting to pay down credit cards and catch up on bills rather than dig themselves deeper into debt," said Steven Trumble, president and CEO of ACCC. "It's very easy to look at a tax refund as free money, but the reality is, the refund check you receive from Uncle Sam is just a return of your own hard earned money."

ACCCs poll revealed that people between the ages of 18 and 34 were most likely to put their refund into savings with 37% reporting doing so. They also were most likely to spend their refund with 28% stating they splurged on something nice. In contrast, of those 55 or older only 4% admitted to buying themselves something.

Of the respondents who received a refund this year, nearly 20% saw a return of $2,500 or more, with 35 to 44 year olds receiving the largest returns. According to the IRS, the average tax refund for 2014 is $2,831, up 1.5% from the same period last year.

When asked if they would rather pay more towards taxes to receive a larger refund or keep more of their paycheck and receive a smaller refund, 45% of respondents preferred the latter. Nearly half, 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 would rather pay more of their paycheck to see a larger refund.

"For those who are shocked to receive a tax bill, chances are they have not been saving throughout the year," said Trumble. "The worst thing a consumer can do is get themselves into debt with an overwhelming tax bill. In most circumstances, the IRS will work with you to set up a payment plan to tackle the debt head on."

The Tax Refund poll is the latest in a series of ACCC web surveys that focus on financial education, budgeting and planning topics. The survey can be found here.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.