NEW YORK (CNNMoney) - Americans are going to be a lot more tightfisted with their tax refunds this year, with more people planning to save the cash they get back from Uncle Sam instead of spending it.
Of those expecting a refund, 44% said they plan to stash some of it in savings, up from 42% last year, according to a survey of more than 8,700 consumers by the National Retail Federation. That marks the highest percentage in the survey's nine-year history.
"After a rocky few years, consumers are now more vigilant about how they spend their money and the importance of preparing for future financial stability," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.
About two-thirds of taxpayers are expecting a refund this year, the NRF said. Last year, the average refund was more than $3,000.
Nearly 40% said they will use some of the money to pay down debt and 28.7% will spend it on everyday expenses. Just 12% said their refund would go toward a major splurge like a new television, down from 13% last year. Only 11% plan to spend the money on a vacation, which was also down from a year earlier.
"I will never use my tax refund as spending cash again," said Celeste Simmons, 39, a single mother in Kennesaw, Ga. "I realized I was behind so I started saving 100% of it four years ago and now I've accumulated enough for a down payment on a house."
Simmons, who said she typically receives $8,000 to $10,000 back from the government, said tax time is her only opportunity during the year to make a big contribution to a savings account. "There is no other time of year that I have to get ahead," she said.
And most taxpayers, like Simmons, are also eager to get a jump on their savings. This year, 64.4% of Americans will have filed their taxes by the end of February, the highest percentage since 2006, the survey said. Only 14% said they will wait until the last minute.
More taxpayers are also filing their taxes themselves this year and fewer are planning to use an accountant or tax preparation service than in previous years.
In a separate survey by TD Ameritrade, an even larger percentage of respondents -- 63% -- said they plan to save or invest at least part of the money they get back. About half, of the more than 1,000 respondents polled said they will use some of the money to pay down debt, while 48% said it will go toward necessities like food or utility bills. Similarly, just 14% of those surveyed said they would use the money to splurge on a big-ticket item or trip.
Tax season is a good time to check your financial health, said Lule Demmissie, managing director of retirement at TD Ameritrade.
"Coming into a large chunk of change at a time when you are gathering important information about yourself becomes an opportunity to sit down and see whether you are meeting your financial goals," she said.
Demmissie recommends stashing those refunds in a tax-deferred savings account like an IRA or Roth IRA.