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MIAMI — The federal government is showering households with tax rebates to spur spending and invigorate a troubled economy. But many Americans are so consumed with debt and the soaring price of gasoline that they are opting to save the money or use it to pay bills, according to surveys, sales data and interviews with people from Florida to California.
Recent surveys underscore that many households are now too worried about the rising cost of driving and eating to spend freely, even as cash lands in their laps.
A February survey by the National Retail Federation extrapolated that about 12 million rebate recipients planned to use some of the money to buy gasoline. By May, the number had grown to 17.2 million — a jump of more than 40 percent.
Another survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers found that those planning to use rebate checks to largely pay down debt jumped to 51 percent of respondents in mid-May from 46 percent in February.
At retail outlets across the country, many merchants say they have yet to enjoy a bump up in business from the tax rebates.