Taxpayers slow to file as they grapple with Trump tax law
Average tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows
Average tax refund amounts are down double-digits compared to last year, according to the latest batch of weekly IRS data about the 2019 tax-filing season released late Friday.
The average refund through Feb. 15 was $2,640, which is 16.7 percent smaller than the average refund through Feb. 16, 2018, according to the IRS data.
The administration said that timing issues were a factor in the difference between the refund sizes.
A Treasury Department spokesperson said that in the period covered by the 2019 data, the IRS had processed significantly fewer refunds claiming certain tax credits.
"As a result, comparing weekly data is misleading and confusing," the spokesperson said.
By law, the IRS has to hold refunds for tax returns claiming the earned income tax credit and the refundable child tax credit until Feb. 15, and refunds that claim these credits are often bigger than refunds that don't claim them.
Last year's data includes an additional day in which the IRS was processing refunds claiming the tax credits. The IRS data for this year goes through Feb. 15, while the data for last year goes through Feb. 16 of that year.
IRS data for the first two weeks of this year showed an 8.7 percent decline in average refund size compared to 2018.
Refund data is being closely watched this year because this is the first filing season under President Trump's 2017 tax-cut law.
Friday's release was the third such publication of weekly tax-filing data. Every batch of weekly filing data the IRS has released so far has shown smaller average refunds compared to 2018.
Treasury has cautioned that the early filing season data shouldn't be given too much weight. Still, a senior Treasury official said earlier this month that the administration expects average refunds to be slightly smaller overall in 2019 than they were in 2018.
Democrats have seized on the early filing-season data, saying that it's proof that the GOP tax law was a "scam" that mainly benefits the wealthy and corporations.
But the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have stressed that most people are getting a tax cut, even if their refund is smaller.
"The size of someone's tax refund says nothing about whether their taxes have gone up or down," the Treasury spokesperson said. "As we have said, most people are seeing the benefits of the tax cut in larger paychecks throughout the year, instead of tax refunds that are the result of people overpaying the government."
Updated: Feb. 23 at 12:10 a.m.