IRS Says Tax Filing Numbers Still Down But Average Refund Dollars Are Up

Taxes

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Might we finally be turning a corner? Tax season appeared to be off to a slow start when it opened in January, with initial statistics showing fewer returns filed and smaller refunds issued. Numbers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have remained low since the open, but this past week they’ve finally ticked up where it matters to taxpayers: Average tax refund dollars are up. 

Filing and processing numbers remain low. We’re a month into tax season (week ending February 22, 2019) and the IRS has received 49,923,000 individual income tax returns. That compares with 51,740,000 individual income tax returns received by the same time last year, a drop of nearly 4%.

Individual income tax returns stats

KPE/IRS

The IRS also continued to report a drop in the rate that individual income tax returns were processed. The IRS has processed 47,700,000 returns to date, or nearly 5% fewer returns compared with the same time last year.

And what about those tax refunds? Tax refund numbers remain sluggish. The IRS has issued just 38,566,000 tax refunds as compared to 40,504,000 for the same period last year. That’s a drop of 5%, which is admittedly better than the staggering 26% drop earlier in the season.

The total amount of tax refund dollars issued remains lower than last year, too. The IRS has issued just $121.203 billion in tax refunds, as compared to $125.671 billion last year. That’s a drop of nearly 4% (again, better than the 40% dip from earlier). 

Refund stats

KPE/IRS

But here’s where we’re seeing some good news. While the number of tax refunds issued overall is down, the average refund for taxpayers has gone up: $3,143 per taxpayer compared to $3,103 for the same period last year, an increase of 1.3%. That’s $40 more than last year.

Those numbers may reflect some very early earned-income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC) payments. By law, the IRS can’t issue refunds to taxpayers who claimed EITC and ACTC before February 15. 

(You can check my best guesses for when you might get your refund here.)

Also on the way up? Visits to the IRS website. Clicks had been down for the tax season, but IRS now says that 232,545,000 visitors have stopped by the site, an increase of 9.1% over the same time last year.

The numbers of self-prepared tax returns which were e-filed continue to climb. Professionally prepared e-filed tax returns continue to fall, dropping 6.7%, but self-prepared e-filed returns weighed in at 25,997,000, reflecting a 0.9% increase from last year.

The IRS expects to process about 150 million tax returns for the season. So far, they’ve received and processed about one third of that total.

Tax Day is April 15, 2019, for most taxpayers. Check back with Forbes during the season for more tax coverage.

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