U.S. Tax Refunds Up 17% in Latest Data Set, Mnuchin Says

Tax refunds in the U.S. jumped 17 percent week over week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin didn’t provide further data or clarify which week he was speaking about, though IRS figures announced last Friday showed a 17 percent drop in the amount of the average tax refund during the week ended Feb. 15 versus the same period a year earlier.

“That basically gets us to the same level as last year,” Mnuchin said during a CNBC interview in London. “I would just emphasize that even if people have perfectly done their withholding, people really should be focused on paying lower taxes and those lower taxes are money back into the economy.”

A Treasury spokeswoman said Mnuchin was referring to a rise in the average size of tax refunds for the week ended Feb. 15. An IRS spokesman didn’t immediately respond.

A 17 percent increase over last week would bring the average refund size to about $3,089.

That would still mean average refund checks would be down about 2.5 percent from the same point last year, before the new tax law was in effect.

The increase Mnuchin touted could be attributed to thousands of refunds that had been held at the IRS for additional anti-fraud screening being sent now. Checks with refundable tax credits — such as those for earned income, children or for health care — are delayed for extra scrutiny. The data for the week ending Feb. 22 is scheduled to be released on Friday.

Mnuchin has tried to explain early data and anecdotal evidence that refunds over the first weeks of the tax filing season are lower. Less wealthy people — whose taxes typically are less complicated and who often are more eager for a refund — tend to file the earliest tax returns.

The drop in the number and amount of refunds so far has irritated taxpayers and triggered new Democratic complaints about President Donald Trump’s new tax law.

Data for the seven days through Feb. 15 showed that direct-deposit refunds dropped for the third week in a row this filing season to $2,703, from $3,256 a year earlier. The total number of refunds was down 26.5 percent to 23.5 million, the IRS said last week.

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