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On the radar: IRS filing season statistics show number of returns filed lag comparable period from 2018, refunds slightly lower

IRS filing season statistics for 2019 show the number of returns received through March 29 at 92,861,000, down 1.4% from the comparable period last year. The number of returns processed was also down 1.4% at 90,280,000. The number of returns filed electronically was essentially flat at 87,288,000.

The number of tax refunds disbursed through March 29 was 71,755,000, down 2.2% from the comparable 2018 data. However, refunds for electronic filers were up 0.6% to 64,252,000.

The average size of all refunds was $2,873, down 0.7% from the same time last year. Refunds for direct deposits averaged $2,995, down 1.4% from a year earlier.

The tax filing season for 2019 got off to a slow start due to the partial federal government shutdown. Initially the IRS managed to catch up quickly with the influx of tax returns. Early filers tend to expect a refund, and those refunds tend to be larger than those later in the season. The current data suggest that this year, more taxpayers have delayed sending in their returns, which in turn suggests that more expect to owe taxes rather than receive a refund, or at least a refund of a size that encourages earlier filing. The average size of a refund peaked at $3,143 in the February 22 week for this filing season. In the same week, the size of a direct deposit refund peaked at $3,226. Since then the size has tapered off and is lagging prior years slightly. The deadline for filing a tax return is Monday, April 15.

Although the size of tax refunds are not significantly different compared to the prior year, the fact that fewer have been issued to-date may have some impact on consumer spending in February, March, and April. A good-sized tax refund often translates into the purchase of a big-ticket item like home furnishing and appliances, or to be invested in home renovation and repair.


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