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On the radar: Filing season statistics show returns received and processed up, but size of refund is down

IRS filing season statistics through April 12, 2019 show the number of returns received were up 0.7% from a year-ago, and the number of returns processed up 0.8%. For the 2019 filing season, there was a burst of early filings as those taxpayers who expected a refund moved to claim it. The pace dragged a bit from prior years thereafter but as the April 15 deadline approached, taxpayers got to work even if expecting to have to pay.

The total number of refunds issued was down 1.9% and the average size of a refund was down 1.3% to $2,795. Refunds sent via direct deposit were up 1.5% compared to a year-ago, while the size of the direct deposit refund was down 2.1% to $2,924.

It is quite normal for the size of refunds to decline over the course of a tax season — which lasts more-or-less from early February through the third week of April when the vast majority of returns are filed and processed. The first weeks can be erratic due to things like changes in tax laws which can delay the IRS’s ability to accept and process returns, but by the fourth week of the season a normal pattern emerges.

This year the fourth week started with refunds averaging $3,143 after a slow start of $1,901 in the first week. The fourth week was the highest since $3,149 in 2010. However, the size has fallen more rapidly than in most years and is likely to end up somewhere in the middle of recent averages.

If consumer spending is going to benefit from the arrival of tax refunds, it will probably be concentrated in March. The up 1.6% for retail and food sales in March reflects this. The boost in April may be less apparent, although the late timing of the Passover/Easter weekend could make up some of the difference in spring promotional sales.

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