The IRS is writing smaller refund checks, on average, at the start of this year’s income-tax-filing season, according to new numbers from the tax agency.
Federal income-tax refunds are averaging $1,395 so far, according to Internal Revenue Service numbers released Friday on the filing season that started less than two weeks ago.
That’s an almost 29% decrease in the size of the average refund year over year, compared with the first batch of data on last year’s income taxes.
But just breathe, taxpayers. There are several reasons the refund picture is not as grim as it might seem.
First, the IRS began processing tax returns a little later this year than it did last year. Filing season started Jan. 29, compared with last year’s Jan. 23 start, which means the IRS hasn’t processed as many returns as it had at this point last year. That skews the comparison of refund sizes.
“Considering the loss of 7 days in this comparison, filing season statistics … show a strong start to filing season 2024, with all systems running well,” the IRS said in a note about the Friday numbers.
The IRS has received 15.3 million returns so far, a roughly 19% decrease compared with the first round of data last year. As more returns come in, it’s a good bet the average 2024 refund size will increase.
Early in last year’s tax season, the average refund was nearly 11% lower than the year before. But by the end of the season, the average refund was 2.6% smaller, coming to $3,167.
Despite the slightly later start this year, April 15 is still the deadline to pay any taxes owed and to file a return or for an extension.
Another reason to relax about refund sizes: The IRS can’t let some refunds out the door until at least Feb. 15, and that’s also playing into the relatively lower averages released Friday.
Under the Protect Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, refunds in returns claiming the earned-income tax credit or the refundable part of the child tax credit are withheld until Feb. 15. The delay is meant to guard against fraud.
The child tax credit pays up to $2,000 per child, and $1,600 of that sum can currently turn into refund cash. A pending bill in the Senate would boost the refundable portion to $1,800 on the tax returns people are filing this year.
Of course, everyone has a different tax situation. There are tax implications connected to changes like a new baby, a new spouse or a new source of income.
And that’s where the third reason for refund reassurance comes in.
Sure, those changes can affect the size of an individual’s return. But broadly speaking, tax-preparation experts say, there are no federal-law changes for tax year 2023 that should push refund averages lower than they were the year before.
The Friday IRS numbers are working off a small sample size, said Tom O’Saben, director of tax content and government relations with the National Association of Tax Professionals.
When it comes to refund amounts in 2023 compared with 2024, O’Saben said, “I would expect things to be very much equal, barring any changes from Congress.” If anything, changes to the child tax credit would increase refunds on average, he noted.
There’s another bit of silver lining: If a person’s 2023 income didn’t keep up with inflation rates, that could potentially trim their tax liability and increase their refund.
The inflation-indexed parts of the tax code increased by 7% on the tax returns Americans are now getting together. Some of the provisions that are getting adjustments include core parts of a return such as the standard deduction and the income ranges for tax brackets.
Average refunds this year might actually be 5% to 10% higher after the dust settles on all of this year’s returns, according to the chief tax-information officer at tax-prep company Jackson Hewitt.
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