Generally, the sooner you file your taxes, the sooner you’ll see your refund in the bank. The amount that you receive — if any — depends on a number of factors, including how much of your income isn’t subject to tax withholding, how many deductions and credits you claim, and how you filled out your W-4, which is the form your employer uses to determine how much to withhold from your paycheck for income taxes.
Even if you’re a procrastinator, you’ll want to file your tax return before the April 15, 2019 tax deadline. And if you think you’re getting a refund, you’ll want to know what to expect and how to protect it.
What’s the Average Tax Refund?
For the 2018 filing season, which covers returns filed for the 2017 calendar year, the average federal tax refund for individuals was $3,186. President Donald Trump’s tax plan went into effect during the 2018 calendar year, so the refund for the average tax return might change when stats are released in 2019.
The average tax refund also varies by state. For example, for the 2017 fiscal year, the average across the nation was about $3,186. However, in Maine, the average refund was just over $2,321, but in Texas, the average taxpayer got back $3,189. But, before you get jealous of those living in Texas, remember that receiving a tax refund just means you made an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam, and the government is now paying you back for the extra amounts that were taken out of your paycheck.
Here’s a look at the average tax refund issued by state for 2017 fiscal year, listed from highest average refund amount to lowest:
|Average Tax Refund by State|
|State||Number of Individual Refunds Issued||Amount of Internal Revenue Refunds Issued (thousands of dollars) for Individual Returns||Average Refund Issued Per Return|
When to Expect Your Tax Refund
The IRS issues most tax refunds within 21 days; in most cases, refunds arrive more quickly. Certain things can delay the processing of your refund, including the following:
- Incomplete returns
- Returns with errors
- Returns affected by identity theft or fraud
- Returns with claims for the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit
- Returns with Form 8379, injured spouse allocation, which can take up to 14 weeks to process
Within 24 hours of e-filing, or four weeks of filing by mail, you can visit the IRS “Where’s My Refund” site to check the IRS refund schedule and the status of your refund. Information on the site is updated daily, typically overnight.
What to Do With Your Refund
In a 2019 GOBankingRates survey, 27 percent of respondents said they would put their tax refund toward paying off debt. Once you get your refund, it might be tempting to treat yourself and spend it. But paying down or paying off debts is a smarter choice — if you pay off a credit card, for example, you can reduce your credit utilization ratio and bump up your credit score.
Other financially sound options for your tax refund include the following:
- Padding your emergency fund
- Contributing to a retirement plan
- Improving the value of your home by tackling home renovations
- Making charitable contributions that you can deduct from your next return
- Investing the money in stocks or CDs
- Investing in yourself with a fitness or certification program
Remember that you don’t have to make an “all-or-nothing” choice with your refund; you can tuck most of it away in investments or home improvements, for example, but still treat your family to a night out with a small portion of your refund.
Click through to read more about why you shouldn’t assume you’re getting a tax refund.
More on Taxes
- TaxHawk Review: Find Out If This Tax Software Flies Above Its Peers
- What to Do If You Lost Your W-2
- These Are the Receipts to Keep for Doing Your Taxes
- Watch: How to Legally Cheat Your Tax Bracket
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John Csiszar contributed to the reporting for this article.