If you, like many Americans this time of year, were pinning your hopes on a large tax refund, brace yourself for some disappointment.
Some of those who have already filed their income taxes this year have found that their tax refunds were smaller than last year – or that they owed the government money instead. Others are seeing them remain the same.
Accountants and tax preparers say it is a consequence of the changes in tax law Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed in late 2017.
The law reduced the amount of money taken out of people’s paychecks for income taxes, which is a significant factor in why people are seeing smaller refunds, experts say.
“People are seeing smaller refunds, but it’s mostly because they have been realizing that refund throughout the year,” said Aaron Erickson, tax director with CLA, a Yakima accounting firm.
Other changes include a higher standard deduction and an elimination of some personal exemptions.
Erickson and Michele Taylor, district manager for Liberty Tax, suggest that people review their withholding forms to make sure they are up to date.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act more than doubled the standard deduction, from $11,300 in 2017 to $24,000 for married couples and from $5,650 to $12,000 for single filers.
The child tax credit also doubled, from $1,000 to $2,000, with couples making up to $400,000 eligible for claiming it, and raising the limit to $200,000 for single filers.
For some taxpayers, that’s good news, Taylor said.
“We’re seeing an increase in refunds for people who have children,” Taylor said.
But there are also provisions in the tax code that cut into refunds.
Withholding tables were adjusted to reflect lower tax rates. While that meant workers got a little more money in their checks each week, it also meant that the government did not have to give back as much money, or people needed to write checks to cover the difference between withholding and what they owe.
The Internal Revenue Service reports that the average tax refund in the first week of the tax filing period was $1,865, down from $2,035 the previous year.
Also, taxpayers will no longer be able to claim individual deductions for themselves and family members, a deduction that used to be $4,150 for each person claimed. That was removed when the standard deduction was doubled, Taylor said.
People may no longer claim unreimbursed business expenses on their income taxes, such as mileage for business travel, or job-hunting costs and moving cost associated with getting a new job. It also sets a $10,000 cap on how much property taxes someone can deduct.
Erickson said the changes were not a surprise to some of his clients, who were advised about what was happening.
But for people who do their own taxes, or only visit with a tax preparer once a year, it could be a rude awakening, especially if they were counting on a large refund for their personal finances.
“Some of our clients are not disciplined enough to save if they do owe,” Erickson said.
If you find yourself owing money to the IRS, the worst thing you can do is not pay it on time.
“The thing you want to avoid is interest and penalties,” Erickson said.
The IRS provides payment options for people who cannot afford to pay their tax liability all at once, including tax penalty waivers, installment payment options and allowing the taxpayer to pay a smaller amount as part of a settlement.
Taylor and Erickson said people should also check to see how much their employers are taking out for income taxes, and make adjustments to ensure the proper amount is being removed. The IRS has a withholding calculator available online to help people with their tax planning.