The U.S. Treasury Department is defending the declining numbers of tax refunds being issued so far this year, saying that taxpayers already saw the benefits of the new tax law in their paychecks.
The number of tax refunds issued so far fell nearly 16 percent to 11.4 million, compared with 13.5 million at the same point in the tax filing season last year, according to Treasury data published on Thursday. The average amount of those refunds dropped to $1,949, compared with $2,135 in 2018.
“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,” the Treasury said in a statement. “Smaller refunds mean that people are withholding appropriately based on their tax liability, which is positive news for taxpayers.”
The data, which reflects the first two weeks of the filing season, has been a sore point for some taxpayers who discovered that their refund is smaller than last year as a result of the late-2017 tax overhaul, which altered available deductions and credits and revised withholding tables.
In some cases, taxpayers who were counting on a refund found they owed the government instead.
The IRS has been off to a slow start this filing season after a 35-day government shutdown left the agency with a fraction of its staff just before the filing season launched Jan. 28.
Taxpayers, too, have been slower to file this year. The IRS has received about 7 percent fewer returns at this point in the filing season compared with a year ago.
The IRS is urging taxpayers who unexpectedly owe money to pay what they can if they can’t cover the whole liability at once. The agency has payment plan options for people in that situation. The IRS has also waived some penalties for those who didn’t have enough withheld out of their paycheck during the year.