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On the radar: The 2019 IRS filing season largely over

Although there will be some late tax returns filed and filings associated with extensions, the IRS 2019 filing season (2018 tax year) has pretty much closed out. The statistics for the week ended April 19 — which includes the deadline of April 15 for the majority of taxpayers — totaled 137,233,000 returns received (up 0.2% from the prior year to-date) and 130,775,000 returns processed (also up 0.2% from the same time last year). The total number of returns filed electronically were 126,264,000, up 1.4%.

The total number of refunds issued were 95,737,000, up 0.3% from the comparable period last year, but the average size of a return was down 2.0% to $2,725. Refunds issued by direct deposit were up 3.4% to 83,249,000 with the average size down 2.7% top $2,863.

It is normal for the size of refunds to decline over the course of the tax season. For 2019, the difference between week 4 — when the season usually peaks — and week 12 — when the procrastinators file — was $418. This was the steepest decline in the data I have back through 1998. The next closest was $352 in the 2007 filing season (2006 tax year). I note that the drop off has become more pronounced the more that consumers use tax preparation software and/or electronic filing. The former tends to increase the accuracy of tax preparation and therefore consumers may be getting more deductions. The latter means that it is easier to file and allows refunds to get into consumers’ hands more speedily.

The upshot is that April may see less of a boost from consumer spending of tax refunds than in recent years, although the late timing of Easter/Passover and mild weather may compensate for some of that.

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