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Americans can’t file their income taxes fast enough — but they should brace for some unwelcome news in their 2020 refunds

It seems like people can’t file their 2020 tax returns fast enough.

People are filing their taxes at a blistering pace so far this year, underscoring how serious Americans are about getting any tax refund due or any stimulus-check money they missed last year. The IRS began accepting and processing 2020 tax returns slightly later than usual because its systems needed a breather after distributing a second round of stimulus checks in late December.

However, there is some bad news that many Americans should be prepared for when they finally get their refund: The average refund so far is $2,880, significantly less than the $3,125 average refund at roughly the same calendar date last year. The decrease follows a year when unemployment skyrocketed due to COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses and shelter-in-place orders.

New IRS statistics released Thursday show people are submitting their individual tax returns at a much faster rate than they were early into last year’s tax season. As of Feb. 19, only eight full days into the 2021 filing season, the IRS received 34.69 million individual returns, agency statistics show.

That’s 30.5% fewer returns than the 49.8 million received by Feb. 21 last year — but that was 26 days into the 2020 filing season and weeks before confirmation that the coronavirus had really taken hold in the U.S.

Simple math, in fact, suggests the volume of individual returns this year.

Simple math suggests the volume of individual returns this year.

When dividing the nearly 34.7 million returns so far this year by eight filing days, the result is 4.3 million returns filed per day. The 49.8 million returns filed last year, divided by 26 filing days comes to 1.91 million returns per day.

Put another way: The IRS has received approximately 21% more individual returns than the agency received last year by Feb. 7, which was 12 days into the tax season last year.

Right now, Americans are facing an April 15 deadline to file and pay their taxes (June 15 in Texas and Okahoma), unless they get an extension to Oct. 15, which gives them more time to file their return, but not to pay any money they owe.

The refunds as of now don’t yet factor in refunds that include payments for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a powerful anti-poverty tax credit geared toward low- and moderate-income working families. Refunds incorporating the EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit will start hitting bank accounts during the first week of March, according to the IRS.

It’s worth noting, however, that when comparing average 2021 refunds eight days into this tax filing season with average refunds as of Feb. 7, 12 days into last year’s filing season, the refund amounts are actually up. Last year, the average refund came to $1,952 by the 12-day mark in the filing season. So far this year the average amount is $2,880. In each instance, the averages do not incorporate money from the EITC or the ACTC.

After the Internal Revenue Service started accepting tax returns on Friday, Feb. 12, the agency took in 55 million returns in the first weekend alone, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig said this week. These 55 million tax returns were not just individual tax returns. They also included business returns and a variety of other returns, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said.

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