49 surprising facts about American taxes & taxpayers


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Tax Day 2021 will be unlike any other year — and not just because it’s on May 17, not April 15. What can already be a confusing process will be even more complicated for many individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, knowing a few facts and trivia about American taxes can help take the edge off the day.

WalletHub brought together a list of facts to help demystify American taxes.

Keep reading to learn everything you ever wanted to know — plus some things you thought you didn’t want to know — about taxes and taxpayers.

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1. Over 150 million Americans will file in 2021

Over 150 million individual income tax
returns are expected to be filed in 2021.

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2. It’s important to file your tax return

It’s a good idea to file. Why? Well, just take a look at infamous gangster Al Capone who was arrested in 1931 for tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz.

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3. States affected by winter storms have even more time

The federal government extended the filing deadline for those affected by severe winter storms. So if you’re from Texas, Oklahoma or Louisiana, you have until June 15 to file your taxes.

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4. The IRS gave out over $270 billion in its first COVID aid round

The IRS reportedly paid over $270 billion in Economic Impact Payments in the first
round of payments.

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5. It’s also sending about 8 million prepaid cards

The IRS also announced that it’s sending out about eight million Second Economic Payments (EIPs) through prepaid debit cards.

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6. R. Kelly once owed nearly $5 million in taxes

From 2005 to 2010, R Kelly owed $4.9M in unpaid taxes.

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7. The IRS is estimated to make $1.7 trillion in taxes

The IRS is estimated to make $1.7 trillion in estimated revenue from individual income taxes in
2021 (up from $1.61 trillion in 2020).

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8. It costs less than 50 cents to process federal revenue

It costs 33 cents for the IRS to collect $100 in federal

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9. The IRS accounts for most of the fed’s revenue

The IRS accounts for about 95% of the federal government’s revenue.

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10. The tax gap is over $380 billion

The estimated annual net tax gap is $381 billion.

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11. People ‘voluntarily’ pay about $385 billion in taxes

People “voluntarily” pay a combined $385 billion in owed taxes.

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12. IRS enforcements bring in another $59 billion

$59.4 billion comes from IRS enforcement activities.

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13. Nicolas Cage owed over $13 million

In 2008, Nicolas Cage had $13.3M in tax liens after not paying his IRS debts in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.

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14. Most Americans aren’t sure if stimulus counts as income

79% of Americans don’t know if they should pay income taxes on stimulus checks (they don’t!).

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15. 90% of returns will be electronically filed

90% of returns are expected to be
filed electronically.

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16. Charlie Sheen once paid Lindsay Lohan’s taxes

In 2009, Lindsay Lohan had a $93,701.57 tax obligation, which Charlie Sheen paid off for her.

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17. The IRS reduced the number of lines in a 1040 by over half

In 2017, a 1040 Form only had 38 lines. Previously, it had 79 lines.

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18. Millions of Americans will receive fewer refunds

15 million fewer taxpayers will receive
refunds this year.

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19. So far, the average refund is about $3,000

The average tax refund as of
Feb. 26, 2021 is $3,021.

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20. Most Americans have their refunds direct deposited

92% of refunds are paid through
direct deposit.

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21. A Vice President resigned because of tax evasion

In 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew
resigned from the offices because of alleged bribery and tax evasion.

Image Credit: Executive Office of the President of the United States / Wiki Commons.

22. Most Americans get their refund within 3 weeks of filing

90% of refunds are issued in 21
days or less.

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23. It takes about 7 weeks to process paper refunds

The timetable for a refund
with a paper return is about seven weeks.

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24. More Americans are visiting this year

There was a 69% increase in visits to
compared to 2020, as of Feb. 26, 2021.

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25. Cryptocurrency can complicate your taxes

The IRS sent over 70,00 warning letters in 2019 to taxpayers who use cryptocurrency.

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26. Americans spent 8 billion hours preparing tax returns

Americans spend a combined 8 billion hours preparing tax returns each year. In comparison, 22 million hours went into constructing
the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.

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27. The majority of Americans are eligible for free tax filing

70% of American taxpayers are
eligible for free income tax preparation and filing.

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28. Your chances of getting audited are slim

There is only a 0.4% chance you will be audited by
the IRS (32% less compared to 2018).

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29. The IRS staff is shrinking

Since 2010, the IRS has seen a 35% decrease in enforcement

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30. That number is likely to decrease again soon

40% of IRS workers will be
eligible to retire by 2024.

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31. Baseball players can get in trouble for not paying merch taxes

In 1990, baseball legend Pete Rose served five months in jail for unpaid taxes on memorabilia sales.

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32. Expect a wait when you call the IRS

The average IRS call wait time was 18 minutes in 2020.

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33. More Americans interact with the IRS than any other agency

Over 253 million Americans interact with the
IRS each year, which is over three-times more than any other federal agency.

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34. Only a quarter of callers get live assistance

24% of IRS calls in 2020  received live

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35. The IRS reviewed $2 billion of tax returns over suspected identify theft

In 2020, the IRS reviewed 560,000 tax returns totaling $2.1 billion as a result of identity theft filters in 2020.

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36. The IRS catches the vast majority of tax fraud

The IRS prevents 98.5% of attempted tax refund

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37. Tax fraud increased 751%

Identified refund fraud increased 751% in 2020 compared with 2019.

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38. Victims have paid over $72 million in phone scams

Since 2012, tax-related phone scam victims have paid over $72 million.

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39. There’s a lot of new ways to attempt tax fraud

As more people file taxes online, the number of tax scamming and fraud methods have increased to include phishing, fake charities, threatening fake phone calls, social media scams, senior fraud, ransomware and more.

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40. COVID-related fraud is estimated at over $36 billion

Americans have lost over $36 billion in COVID-related fraud.

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41. The IRS has a $12 billion-plus budget

In 2021, the IRS budget increased by $528.5 million, bringing its total budget to $12.04 billion.

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42. Its budget is still overall down from 10 years ago

Its budget has been cut by $2.6 billion since 2010.

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43. Over $8 billion in taxes goes uncollected

The IRS says that the U.S. has $8.3 billion in annual uncollected
taxes due to IRS budget cuts.

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44. By 2029, the US will have trillions of dollars in uncollected taxes

By 2029, the IRS estimates that the U.S. will have over $7.5 trillion in uncollected taxes.

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45. 34% of the IRS budget goes to compliance

34% of the IRS budget goes to
helping taxpayers comply with the law.

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46. There have been nearly 6,000 tax code changes in 15 years

From 2001 to 2016, there have been 5,900 tax code changes.

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47. There are more words in the US tax codes than in all of ‘Game of Thrones’

There are 3.9 million words in the tax code, which
is about double the five “Game of Thrones” books combined.

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48. Over 80,000 volunteers help Americans file their taxes

82,000 volunteers around the U.S. help their fellow Americans complete their tax returns.

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49. Americans spent about $230 to file taxes

The average American spent $230 completing and filing a 1040 in 2021. That was also the avarage fee in 2011.


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Kaitlyn Farley

Kaitlyn is MediaFeed’s senior editor. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, specializing in social justice and investigative reporting. She has worked at various radio stations and newsrooms, covering higher-education, local politics, natural disasters and investigative and watchdog stories related to Title IX and transparency issues.