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2019's average tax refunds finally surpass 2018 amounts

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It's taken a few weeks, four to be exact, but the 2019 tax season is finally catching up.

The latest Internal Revenue Service filing season statistics show that while most categories that the agency tracks each filing season are still lagging 2018 figures, the differences are starting to shrink.

And there's even better news for folks who are getting refunds.

The average check amounts issued through Feb. 22 are dramatically larger than the week before.

More notable, those average refund amounts have finally topped the averages of year ago.

Unpleasant tax refund surprises: In case you haven't been following the recent tax refund contretemps, here's a quick backgrounder.

Since the filing season opened on Jan. 28, many taxpayers have been unhappily surprised by refunds that are much less than they expected. And they've tended to lay the blame on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changes.

True, one reason for the smaller refunds (and in some cases unexpected tax bills) is due to paycheck withholding changes in order to reconcile them with the new tax law's reduced tax rates and revisions of tax breaks.

But another reason for the refund surprises is that despite warnings by the IRS and tax professionals and tax bloggers, taxpayers didn't adjust their personal withholding to account for the TCJA revisions.

That meant in many cases, they got the money as part of their pay throughout much of 2018 instead of as a refund now for over-withheld taxes.

Bigger refund checks, finally: Early IRS filing season data has underscored disgruntled refund recipients' frustration.

Just a week ago, the total amount of refunds issued were down almost 39 percent from the same time last year.

During that same period that end Feb. 15, the average refund sent to taxpayers, either as a paper check or directly deposited, also was down by around 17 percent from the 2018 amounts.

What a difference a week makes.

Data on filings through Feb. 22 show that the total refunds issued had increased.

More notable, the average check amounts finally surpassed those issued at the same time in 2018.

 Week Ending 

Feb. 23, 2018

Feb. 22, 2019

% Change 

 Total refund amounts issued

$125.7 billion

$121.2 billion


 Total refund average amount




 Direct deposit amounts delivered

$120.7 billion

$117.2 billion


 Direct deposit average amount




Counting all refunds regardless of how they were issued, the average check for the filing season through last week was up 1.3 percent over last year, coming to $3,143.

Directly deposited refunds were even larger. They increased slightly (0.8 percent) to $3,226.

Slowly catching up: While the refund data is welcome, especially by recipient taxpayers and the GOP tax writers who've been trying to counter the TCJA blow-back, many of the filing numbers so far this year still are behind 2018's pace.

IRS processing of returns is 4.6 percent behind last year's rate. That's actually not too bad, or surprising, since the agency is still the recovering from the backlog created by the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

We taxpayers also bear some of the blame. So far, we've sent in 3.5 percent fewer 1040 forms to the IRS.

A category that's been trending upward for the last couple of filing seasons, taxpayers using software to prepare and file their returns themselves, also grew a bit.

Through Feb. 22, almost 26 million individual taxpayers completed and e-filed their taxes, a 0.9 percent increase over 2018 numbers for the same time frame and a 0.7 bump from the week before.

More online IRS visitors: The biggest winner, however, a month into this 2019 filing season is the IRS' website.

Through Feb. 22, nearly 233 million people clicked on seeking tax information and help. That's a 9.1 percent increase from the slightly more than 213 million visitors the site got at this point in 2018.

As usual, the weekly tax season statistics offer a whole lot of numbers.

But given the taxpayer outrage over smaller refunds, there was no question about what would get this week's early By the Numbers honors. Yes, honors plural.

The average total refund of $3,143 and direct deposit refund of $3,226 both earn the recognition.

I suspect many taxpayers, the IRS and GOP authors of the new tax law also are celebrating these amounts, too.

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Tax refunds are like Christmas for adults. It's something you do not spend much time thinking about until shows up in your bank account. Good read, thanks

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