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Mnuchin: Tax refunds 'basically' at same level as last year

Mnuchin: Tax refunds 'basically' at same level as last year
© Greg Nash

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinTreasury imposes additional sanctions on Cuba over allegations of 'serious human rights abuse' Treasury Department sanctions inner circle of Russian agent Derkach for election interference Sanders defends push to impeach Trump: Insurrection won't be tolerated MORE touted new IRS tax-filing data on Thursday, saying the figures show that tax refunds are "basically" the same size as last year.

Mnuchin's comments came hours before the IRS released data showing that the average refund through Feb. 22 is up 1.3 percent compared to a similar period last year. Republicans had faced scrutiny over earlier data showing a decline in the average refund amount.

"Tax refunds are up 17 percent week over week," Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday. "That basically gets us to the same level as last year."

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The Treasury Department later said that the average refund size is up 19 percent compared to the average refund size through Feb. 15.

Refund data is being closely scrutinized this year because it's the first filing season under President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE's tax law.

Treasury said that the significant week-over-week increase in the size of refunds through last week is due to the timeline for certain refunds.

By law, the IRS can't issue refunds claiming the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit until Feb. 15, and refunds claiming those tax credits tend to be larger than other refunds. 

A senior Treasury official has said that the department expects overall refunds in 2019 to be slightly smaller than they were last year.

Before the latest numbers were released Thursday, Democrats had voiced concerns after previously released IRS data through Feb. 15 showed that the average refund size was 16.7 percent smaller than it was through Feb. 16, 2018.

This year's tax-filing season runs through April 17.

The administration estimates that about 80 percent of people will be seeing a tax cut, compared to if the tax law passed in late 2017 hadn't been enacted, and another 15 percent will see their taxes stay about the same.

However, tax cuts and tax refunds aren't the same thing. Someone could receive reduction in their tax liability but also see a smaller refund if they didn't overpay their taxes as much throughout the course of the year.

Mnuchin said Thursday that people should focus on their tax liability rather than their refund.

"People really should be focused on they are paying lower taxes, and those lower taxes is money back into the economy and that’s why we have the economic growth we do," he told CNBC.

– This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. to reflect the latest IRS data