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Where are all of the taxpayers? As tax season comes to a close, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hasn’t yet seen an expected rebound in filing numbers after a slow start. Year-to-date statistics show that, compared to 2018, the numbers of tax returns received and processed are still lagging.
Tax season opened on January 28, 2019. As of the week ended March 29, the IRS has received 92,861,000 individual income tax returns. That compares with 94,139,000 individual income tax returns received by the same time last year, a drop of more than 1.2 million returns.
Why the decline in filings? With so many changes as a result of the Taxpayer Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), taxpayers may be opting to file for an extension this year. Some delays might be caused by sorting out the pass-through deductions for some businesses, while some optimistic taxpayers may be hoping for those extenders to pass. Whatever the reason, as the deadline creeps nearer, the more likely it is that taxpayers should seek an extension. In fact, according to the IRS website: The IRS recommends that taxpayers file for an extension if they need one.
(For more on extensions, click here.)
It’s not just taxpayers that are taking their time: the IRS also reported a drop in the rate that individual income tax returns were processed. As of the week ended March 29, the IRS has processed 90,280,000 individual income tax returns. That compares with 91,593,000 individual income tax returns processed by the same time last year, a dip of more than 1.3 million returns.
And what about those tax refunds? Refunds took a tumble early on and then appeared to recover at the end of February when the average refund for taxpayers went up by $40. However, those numbers have dropped again. The IRS has issued just 71,755,000 tax refunds so far this year as compared to 73,396,000 tax refunds for the same period last year. That’s a drop of just over 2%.
The total amount of tax refunds issued to date is only $206.149 billion, more than $6 billion off of the same time last year. You can probably guess that the math works out to smaller average refunds for taxpayers, too: $2,873 per taxpayer compared to $2,893 for the same time last year, a decrease of $20.
(For more about when you might expect your refund, click here.)
There’s more. Despite what feels like a busy tax season for tax professionals, the overall number of returns filed by pros is down by 2%, while the number of self-prepared tax returns has gone up by 2.3%. The latter might also explain the most significant increase reported by the IRS: a 10% increase in visits to the IRS website. The IRS reported 358,112,000 visitors to the site, a spike of more than 30 million.
There are still a few weeks left in tax season, so the overall picture could still change. Tax Day is April 15, 2019, for most taxpayers. Check back with Forbes during the season for more tax coverage.