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Tax return filing & refunds are off to a slow 2020 start

IRS electronic tax filing
Even with increased e-filing, taxpayers still don't seem to be in a big hurry to send their 1040s to the IRS.

At the start of every filing season, there's a lot of talk and media coverage (guilty!) about how folks are champing at the bit to get their returns in to the Internal Revenue Service.

And for the last five years, taxpayers have said "meh," at least as far as filing as soon as they can.

Comparing IRS filing data for early February from 2016 through 2020, we see:

  Filing Season   Week Ending   # Returns Filed % Change
from Prior Year
  2016   Feb. 12, 2016   38,737,000 -2.4
  2017   Feb. 10, 2017   32,090,000  -17.2
  2018   Feb. 9, 2018   30,881,000 -3.8
  2019   Feb. 8, 2019   28,764,000 -6.9
  2020   Feb. 7, 2020   28,662,000 -0.4

The annual slow start came regardless of whether the filing season started on time or was delayed due to last-minute legislation or a government shutdown or involved major tax law changes.

It seems like, and the IRS statistics seem to support it, that for the past few years folks just haven't been in that big of a filing hurry.

Increase in 2015: The last time a filing got off to a faster February start than the previous year was five years ago.

As of Feb. 6, 2015, the IRS had received 27,517,000 returns, a 1 percent increase over the number sent in for the comparable time period in 2014.

By the next week, the day before Valentine's Day in 2015, the IRS had received 39,699,000 returns, an uptick of 1.2 percent over the prior year's romantic weeks.

Because of the February filing enthusiasm of the mid-2000s, I'm awarding this week's By the Numbers honor to 2015.

E-filing up incrementally: But I'm returning to the present for some more filing data. Overall, the statistics are mixed.

While the total returns the IRS has received is down a bit from last year, the number of electronically filed 1040s is up from this period last year.

Through Feb. 7, the IRS says it got more than 27.77 million e-filed returns, an increase of 0.6 percent

The bulk of the digitally submitted returns were from taxpayers who did the job themselves.

The IRS got just more than 17 million e-filed returns that were prepared by taxpayers. That's a 3.5 percent increase over last year.

Professionally prepared and e-filed returns, however, were down from the same time frame in 2019. Through Feb. 7, the IRS got almost 10.6 million of such paid preparer e-filings, a 3.7 percent drop from the 2019 filing season at this point.

Those individuals who did their own taxes and e-filed them apparently used not only tax software, but also the IRS' website. The agency says that in early February, it's recorded 110.87 million visits to IRS.gov, an increase of 4.2 percent.

IRS slower, too: Accepting returns is just part of the IRS' job during filing season.

It also has to process them and issue the associated refunds.

And the IRS, too, is a bit slow this year when it comes to getting tax cash back to filers.

Through early February, both the number of refunds — 10.837 million — and the amount issued in those checks — slightly more than $21 billion — were down this year, off -4.8 percent and -4.4 percent, respectively, from the prior filing season.

Tax refund check

The good refund news, though, is that the average amount of $1,952 is up a tiny bit (+0.2 percent).

Have you filed yet? If not, why not? 

And if you have filed and are expecting a refund, is it more than the average the IRS has issued so far?

Let me and the ol' blog readers know in the comments.

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Kay Bell

Mystery isn't good when it comes to taxes, that's for sure! Hope it is solved in your favor!

Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

I'm very impatiently waiting for the last two forms I need to file or I'd have filed already just to be done with the anticipation of owing money! I hope we don't, I adjusted our withholdings to get as close as possible, but we'll see. I just want to solve the mystery!

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