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Tax rebate checks begin appearing today
Local residents talk about where their money will go
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Gainesville resident Jesse Jenkins talks about the effect the tax rebate will have on the economy and on his own spending.

It’s almost like Christmas in July.

Except it’s not quite May. And that tax rebate money that’s showing up in people’s bank accounts today, courtesy of Uncle Sam, is meant for a gift for yourself.

Starting Monday, the Internal Revenue Service started depositing tax rebates into thousands of bank accounts, with the goal of completing 800,000 payments each day through Wednesday.

There will be no deposits made Thursday, and then a batch of 5 million will be direct-deposited into bank accounts on Friday.

And while the cash might be a nice bit of padding for an otherwise lean bank account, some financial experts said the best thing to do with the small windfall is to pay down debt — though, one expert said the average payment will only offset increases in fuel and basic necessities.

"If you commute 15,000 miles a year, you’re probably looking at an additional 800 gallons, and we’re up well over a dollar a gallon in gasoline prices in the past year," said Roger Tutterow, a Mercer University economist in Atlanta.

"When you take out the additional cost of energy and food, there’s not going to be too much to go around in terms of discretionary spending," he said.

Barclay Rushton, a Gainesville CPA, said a $1,200 payment to a credit card with a 21 percent interest rate would result in a savings of $279 in interest in a year if you didn’t accumulate additional debt on the card.

"That’s a pretty good return," Rushton said. "That’s better than a lot of investments these days."

Mark Limmer, a certified financial planner in Buford, said a person needs to "put a fence around the money."

Limmer said the way to do that is by investing in a Roth IRA, which would result in penalties if the money is touched before the age of 59«.

"The big gorilla on your back is retirement," Limmer said. "I would make sure your Roth is funded."

The Rev. Dr. William L. Coates Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church on Green Street, was philosophical about what to do with the money.

"You could do the right thing and give 10 percent to your church," Coates said. "Or you could do the really right thing and give it all to the church. You know that God loveth a cheerful giver, but we also accept gifts from grouchy ones."

Around town, many Gainesville residents were split about what to do with the money — some said they would put it toward larger purchases, while others admitted to wanting to use it to pay regular bills, such as the mortgage or gas.

"I’m getting $600 back," said Gainesville resident Sally Geer. "(I’ll) Probably buy something for my house, maybe pay some credit card bills ... probably paying bills"

Barbara Ray, also of Gainesville, said if $600 suddenly appeared in her and her husband’s bank account, they would probably pay bills.

"We have a house note we’d probably pay," she said. "Everything else is pretty much caught up, so we might use it to pay down the house note. And we might put some in savings, too. Stretch it as far as it would go."

But local businessman Jesse Jenkins stressed the importance of spreading the government-sponsored cash around in order to help out the economy.

"We hope to get $1,200, my wife and I. There’s a lot of things I would do with it," he said. "I think it will boost the economy if people spend their money right. If they put it in a bank or hold it, that won’t do us any good."

The rebates were the centerpiece of the government’s $168 billion economic stimulus package enacted in February and are designed to bolster consumer spending and lift the economy out of the doldrums.

The first wave of payments are going to people who opted for direct deposit on their 2007 income tax returns.

Many economists believe the country has fallen into a recession, but President Bush last week disputed that view, saying he believed it was a period of slower growth that would be helped by the stimulus checks.

Democrats, however, pointing to rising layoffs as the economy weakens, contend that more needs to be done. They are pushing for a second stimulus package that would include extending unemployment benefits for another 13 weeks, boosting food stamp benefits and adding billions of dollars for construction projects such as roads and bridges.

But for now, the money landing in local bank accounts, such as Eric Watson’s, might go towards a smaller yet just as important goal.

"With my $600, I’m probably going to spend about $400 in gas," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story