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Average tax refund down 8.4 percent in first filing week

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The average tax refund from the IRS dropped 8.4 percent in the first week of the 2019 filing season compared to the same period last year, according to agency statistics.

The dip, to $1,865 from $2,035, is an early barometer of the season, which is being watched more closely than usual because it reflects the first full year under the 2017 tax overhaul and comes on the heels of a protracted government shutdown that hit the IRS just as it was gearing up for the annual exercise.

The number of individual tax returns received and processed by the IRS also fell sharply year over year, by 12.4 percent and 25.8 percent, respectively. The data for this year cover Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, matched against Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, 2018.

The data reflect only one week of filing in a process that will last until April 15 for most taxpayers, and refund predictions by tax experts have been all over the map. Morgan Stanley has estimated they will rise by 26 percent, but others are less optimistic.

“There are going to be a lot of unhappy people over the next month,” said Edward Karl, vice president of taxation for the American Institute of CPAs. “Taxpayers want a large refund."