Six Observations about This Year’s Tax Tiling Statistics

Adam Rust

1) Refunds are smaller. The average refund through March 29, 2018, was $2,893. Through this year, the average refund has fallen by twenty dollars to $2,873. If there was a stimulus, it's effects have already been felt.

2) More people feel comfortable preparing their taxes. Last year at this time, 38.9 million e-returns were prepared by filers. As of March 29th, 39.9 million have completed their e-return without the help of the preparer. Importantly, the change is not a product of a shift in the volume of returns, as the number of filings submitted electronically has largely stayed the same.

3) The share of people receiving their refunds by direct deposit continues to go up. The jump has been fairly dramatic. To date, 89.5 percent of refund recipients have elected to use direct deposit this year, representing a 2.6 percentage point increase over the same time last year.

4) But fewer people are getting a refund. Last year by this time, 79.1 million filers were due a refund. So far this year, that is the case for only 77.9 million filers - a drop of 1.175 million returns.

5) More people are referring to Visits to the IRS’ web site have jumped 10.4 percent. Absent any scientific basis; I will hazard to guess that the changes in tax rules have led to more confusion.

6) Returns are coming in more slowly this year. Although it stands to reason that a growing population should produce an ever-increasing number of returns each year, overall volume is off this year. The IRS has received approximately 1.278 million fewer returns compared to the same time last year.

Whe fewer people refunds, and when those who do get a refund for a lower amount, it is safe to say that any benefits of the stimulus are for the most part over for this year.

On the other hand, the cost of the surging deficit will be felt for decades to come.

Picture of card
Picture of card
tax filer fills out 1040

My data comes from the IRS’ latest data release (March 29th,2019). It compares the results through March 29th, 2019 against activity from last year through March 30th, 2018.  


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Adam Rust has worked to defend consumers against harmful financial practices since 2005. He has written extensively about overdraft fees, payday lending, credit insurance, student loans, prepaid debit cards, high-cost installment loans, and subprime mortgage lending. The New York Times interviewed him when it reported on the CFPB's rulemaking on prepaid debit cards; subsequently, his research paper framed the debate on consumer protections.

He serves on the Board of the US Faster Payments Council. He is Director of Research at Reinvestment Partners in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of BankTalk. He is the author of "This is My Home: Challenges and Opportunities of Manufactured Housing" and has testified to Congress on how to redress some of the problems with manufactured housing. See more on his LinkedIn profile.