Reading tax statistics can be a lot like checking out COVID-19 vaccination options.
You can't just look at one number. You have to take into account the circumstances that produced the percentage that caught your attention.
That's the deal with the 2021 filing season figures.
Percentages skewed by season lengths: As of Feb. 26, the latest complete information collected by the Internal Revenue Service, almost 45.3 million 2020 tax returns have been filed. That's a 23.7 percent drop from the amount of submitted returns through the end of February last year.
But wait. There's more.
More than 45 million filed returns so far in 2021 is pretty darn impressive because they have arrived at the IRS just 15 days into the filing season. Remember, the IRS didn’t start accepting and processing tax returns this year until Feb. 12.
Last year's filing season started at a pre-COVID more normal date, the end of January. By the time Feb. 28, 2020, rolled around, the IRS had been dealing with tax returns for 33 days.
Reasons for early filing rush: Taxpayers this year are eager to take care of their taxes. Their 45.271 million already filed tax returns earn this week's By the Numbers honor.
Why the rush to get Form 1040s into Uncle Sam's tax collector?
Well, there's always the usual reason. Many filers are expecting tax refunds.
Then there's the coronavirus, or more precisely economic impact payments (EIPs) issued to help cover financial difficulties the pandemic has produced.
Two EIPs — one in the spring for $1,200 per individual and $500 per qualifying dependent child and $600 per person (including children) at the end of the year — were issued last year. The amounts that folks got were based on the latest tax information the IRS had on taxpayers at the time.
The early EIPs, however, were advance payments of a tax credit, the Recovery Rebate Credit. And in many cases, the previous year's filing information didn't actually reflect those folks' filing situations for 2020.
If they didn't get the full EIP amounts last year (or in January 2021 for the payment enacted just after last Christmas), they get a second chance by claiming it on their 2020 tax returns.
I'm willing to bet a lot of the 45.271 million returns filed the first two weeks of this year contain the COVID-19 credit claims.
I also suspect that when Congress started debating a third economic impact payment, which was approved by the Senate yesterday (March 6) and is expected to be finalized by another House vote on Tuesday (March 9), a whole 'nother rash of returns was submitted so folks could get this EIP this year based on more advantageous 2020 taxpayer data.
We've got numbers: What else do the latest IRS filing season 2021 stats reveal?
An overworked IRS is a tad slower this year in dealing with the returns it's received so far. Through Feb. 26, the tax agency had processed 39.4 million returns. That's a drop of 31 percent from last year's pace. But again, the current figures are two weeks of filings versus more than month in 2020.
As has been the trend in recent years, more folks are e-filing their returns on their own. So far, the IRS has received 25.6 million electronic returns that were prepared by taxpayers. Another 18.3 million e-filings were submitted by tax professionals.
If, however, Congress keeps making tax law changes after the filing season has started, a lot of folks might find they need to find a tax pro to help them do the job.
As for refunds, the IRS had issued through Feb. 26 just more than 28.3 million refunds that were worth a total $85.5 billion. The average refund check so far this year is $3,021.
And as expected by the number of e-filings, more than 27.2 million of the refunds were directly deposited to taxpayer accounts. These e-refunds totaled $83.4 billion, with the average electronically distributed refund coming to $3,063.
You might have noticed that in noting the last few filing figures, I didn't include the percentage differences between 2020 and 2021. That's because all of the shorter 2021 filing season numbers are worse compared to the longer 2020 data. If you want to see the percentage differences, you can check out the IRS announcement.
COVID-19 vax comparisons: Now about those coronavirus vaccination numbers. When you can finally get jabbed, ignore the efficacy numbers and take whatever one is available. The best Covid-19 vaccine for you is most likely still the first one you can get.
"The goal of a vaccine was really to defang or tame this virus, to make it more like other respiratory viruses that we deal with, so when you look at the three approved vaccines in the U.S., all of them are extremely good at that metric," Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Vox.
All three vaccinations, say researchers who've been following them since distribution, are doing a remarkable job of keeping people alive. "That's how I think of these vaccines, as basically interchangeable,” said Adalja.
So take whichever one you can get — Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson — whenever you can get it. And even after you get the shot(s), keep yourself, family, friends and everyone else you might encounter safe by keeping on your mask.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Free File available for filers who made $72,000 or less
- VITA & TCE volunteers work around COVID-19 to help taxpayers file returns
- 7 reasons to file your tax return early vs. 8 reasons to wait to file your 2020 taxes
|Coronavirus Caveat & More Information
In 2021, we all still are dealing with extraordinary circumstances,
both in our daily lives and when it comes to our taxes.
The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to reduce its transmission
and protect ourselves and our families means that,
for the most part, we're focusing on just getting through these trying days.
But life as we knew it before the coronavirus will return,
along with our mundane tax matters.
Here's hoping that happens soon!
In the meantime, you can find more on the virus and its effects on our taxes
by clicking Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Taxes.