More than half of tax returns already filed, average refund amount up 12% from last year

Susan Tompor
Detroit Free Press

Pulling out every excuse in the book to avoid doing your taxes this weekend? Here's a stat that might shame you into gear. 

A bit more than half of all the returns that the Internal Revenue Service expects to receive during 2022 have already been filed.

Yep, nearly 81.4 million federal income tax returns were done as of March 25 – slightly more than three weeks before this year's April 18 filing deadline for most of the country.

The IRS estimates that it will receive 160.7 million returns in 2022. The agency by the end of last week processed 78.8 million returns, up 3.8%, from the same time a year ago. 

REFUNDS SLOW COMING:IRS says stimulus check mistakes are among reasons for tax refund delays

CRYPTO PAYMENTS:Crypto taxes: Not as easy to hide from as you'd imagine

Self-prepared returns lag

The flip side is another 79.3 million returns are yet to be filed.

Some do-it-yourself filers are clearly dragging their feet. 

Self-prepared returns that are electronically filed were down 5.8% through March 25, compared with the same time last year, according to the latest IRS statistics released Friday. 

The IRS reported receiving 38.5 million self-prepared e-filed returns thus far this year. 

E-filed returns prepared by tax professionals are about flat with 39.9 million returns filed through March 25. 

Total returns filed, which would include paper returns, are down slightly, 4.3%, compared with a year ago. 

Year-to-year numbers can be hard to compare, though, given changes in tax rules.

Take data for self-prepared returns. In 2020, for example, many people who typically wouldn't be required to file a return based on their low income ended up self-filing a return through the site "Free File" to claim the Economic Impact Payment.

In 2021, those who aren't typically required to file also self-filed to claim the Economic Impact Payment and the advance child tax credit. Such factors, according to the IRS, increased the number of self-filers beyond normal projections. 

It's also good to note that the 2021 filing season did not have a typical start date or deadline. Last year, the tax season was delayed and began Feb. 12. The filing deadline was extended and pushed to May 17, 2021.

Remember: Deadline is April 18

This year, the filing season began at a more typical start date on Jan. 24. The filing deadline is April 18 for most of the country. 

Early filers have seen decent refunds in many cases. 

The average refund was $3,263 for the year through March 25  up 12.4% from a year ago. 

In all, the IRS has issued 57.8 million refunds this year worth nearly $189 billion. Total refund dollars are up 15.1%. 

It's important to keep in mind that the IRS is cautioning taxpayers not to rely on "receiving a refund by a certain date. The IRS has a list of reasons that refund money could take months to get, even if you file electronically,

Matt Hetherwick, director of individual tax programs for the nonprofit Accounting Aid Society in Detroit, which offers free tax preparation for families and individuals with incomes up to $58,000, said refunds are often higher for many clients, thanks to the increased child tax credit and the enhanced earned income tax credit. 

For example, the earned income credit has nearly tripled on 2021 returns for lower-income workers who have no children. 

The most one can earn with no qualifying children on 2021 federal income tax returns is $1,502. That's up from the old benefit of up from $538 on 2020 returns for those with no children.

Hetherwick said it is concerning to see a declining number of returns being filed so far, noting that some filers could be hoping that the tax deadline will be extended another month like last year.

He warned that the April 18 deadline is extremely likely to stick at this point in the season. While it’s possible to file for an automatic six-month extension, that break won’t give you more time to pay the money that’s due.

“April 18th is the filing deadline if you owe taxes to the IRS,” he said, “so those filers should make sure they’re getting (returns) filed on or before that day.”

Contact Susan Tompor via Follow her on Twitter @tompor.