New IRS Numbers Show More Taxpayers Filing Early, But Smaller Refunds

This year, the tax filing season is starting off strong. The initial data from the IRS indicates that taxpayers are getting their returns in more quickly than they did last year.

Tax season opened on Jan. 23, 2023, one day earlier than in 2022. The IRS has now made data available from the beginning of the season. Here’s what it shows.

The cumulative statistics comparing Feb. 4, 2022, and Feb. 3, 2023, confirm that filing numbers are up. The IRS received 18,946,000 individual income tax returns in 2023, compared with 16,685,000 in 2022. That’s a boost of 13.5% out of the gate for the current tax season.

The IRS is also processing individual income tax returns more quickly—likely a nod to finally working through the existing backlog. The data shows that the IRS processed 16,767,000 individual income tax returns in 2023, compared to 12,992,000 in the same period in 2022. That’s an improvement of 29.1%.

Most tax returns—just over 92%—received in 2023 were filed electronically. About 2/3 of those electronically prepared returns were marked as self-prepared, with the remainder filed by tax professionals.

And what about those tax refunds? Typically, taxpayers with simple tax returns who count on their tax refunds file early in the tax season.

The IRS issued 7,996,000 tax refunds in 2023 compared to 4,330,000, an increase of nearly 85%. Since those numbers are much bigger, the overall tax refund dollars have also grown to $15.696 billion. But, as was expected this year, since the enhanced child tax credit wasn’t renewed—and we’re back to the previous version—the average tax refund is down a few dollars so far: $1,963 per taxpayer compared to $2,201 in 2022.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t include a column for 2022 in the refund chart, it’s because that data appears confusing at first. The number and total dollars of refunds issued via direct deposit look a bit out of sorts—they’re larger than the total refunds issued. That math doesn’t makes sense on its face, so I reached out to the IRS. They reminded me that direct deposit refunds reported in 2022 included refunds for returns received in the prior year or the current year but processed in 2022—keep in mind that the last few years have been anything but normal.

Web visits to are down 12% from the same period in 2023. That’s not surprising given the confusion around the enhanced child tax credit and other Covid relief measures that dominated conversations in early 2022.

So what does the data tell us? This early in the filing season, not a great deal. There can be many reasons taxpayers may be rushing to file this year and why they’re not stopping by My hunches are just that: hunches. And refund numbers will change mid-month since the IRS must wait until mid-February to begin issuing refunds to taxpayers who claim the earned-income tax credit (EITC) and the additional child tax credit (ACTC). That took taxpayers by surprise in 2017, when the new law went into effect, but taxpayers may now be used to the delay and file a bit later.

Whatever the reason, we’ll be tracking the numbers at Forbes as the weeks tick by. Tax season is just getting started.

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