Tax refunds may be more important than ever this year for many Americans, as the incomes of millions are disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has extended the filing deadline to July 15 as one of many federal responses to the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately more than 155 million Americans will file their 2019 federal tax returns this year. Of those households, more than 111 million will receive a refund.
There’s a wide disparity in both the likelihood of receiving a refund and the average refund amount among major American cities though. Using recent local-level data from the IRS, MagnifyMoney analyzed individual tax data of 157 of the largest U.S. metro areas to find out where people get the biggest tax refunds, as well as where people are most likely to receive a refund.
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Where taxpayers are getting the biggest refunds
Nationwide, the average tax refund in 2018 was $2,955, which is 5% lower than the average refund of $3,120 in 2017. These figures include about 111 million filers across 157 metro areas, which represent nearly 75% of all single and joint taxpayers. In 2018, 74.9% of these filers received a federal tax refund, down from 75.9% of files in 2017.
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10. San Francisco
Percentage receiving refund: 66.33%
Average refund: $3,331
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9. Corpus Christi, Texas
Percentage receiving refund: 82.07%
Average refund: $3,355
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8. Victoria, Texas
Percentage receiving refund: 80.43%
Average refund: $3,357
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7. Cleveland, Mississippi
Percentage receiving refund: 81.43%
Average refund: $3,373
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6. Cape Coral, Florida
Percentage receiving refund: 67.66%
Average refund: $3,439
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Percentage receiving refund: 73.75%
Average refund: $3,457
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4. Brownsville, Texas
Percentage receiving refund: 85.99%
Average refund: $3,494
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3. McAllen, Texas
Percentage receiving refund: 86.72%
Average refund: $3,604
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Percentage receiving refund: 76.95%
Average refund: $3,735
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1. Midland, Texas
Percentage receiving refund: 80.25%
Average refund: $3,800
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Where filers are most likely to owe taxes
Fewer taxpayers owe when they file, but when they do, the average amount due to the IRS is higher than the average refund. In 2018, the average amount owed at filing was $5,903, which was 8% higher than the average of $5,464 owed in 2017. About 20.7% of filers in these metro areas ended up owing taxes in 2018, up from 19.5% in 2017.
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10. Medford, Oregon
Percentage owing taxes: 23.82%
Average owed: $4,708
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9. Boise, Idaho
Percentage owing taxes: 23.83%
Average owed: $5,499
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8. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Percentage owing taxes: 23.89%
Average owed: $6,734
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7. Cape Coral, Florida
Percentage owing taxes: 24.01%
Average owed: $9,895
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6. Sacramento, California
Percentage owing taxes: 24.48%
Average owed: $5,062
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Percentage owing taxes: 24.96%
Average owed: $6,511
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4. North Port, Florida
Percentage owing taxes: 25.01%
Average owed: $7,102
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3. Bend, Oregon
Percentage owing taxes: 25.37%
Average owed: $5,356
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2. Edwards, Colorado
Percentage owing taxes: 26.75%
Average owed: $7,754
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1. San Francisco
Percentage owing taxes: 28.02%
Average owed: $8,472
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Refunds account for larger portion of take-home pay in places with lower incomes
In cities where incomes are lower than the national average, refunds aren’t appreciably lower. The average refund recipient in these metro areas may get a refund equivalent to 5% or more of their annual income, which is significantly higher than the national average of 1.3%. In the 10 cities with the largest refunds as a percentage of annual income, nine had average incomes of less than $50,000 — significantly below the national average income of $78,058.
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How 2017 tax reform may impact future refunds in some metros
As we begin to see preliminary data about the impact from changes made by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, one of the most prominent pieces of info is the number of filers who itemized deductions. Last year, only 19 million filers itemized their taxes, down from 46 million in 2018. This is because for many filers, the standard deduction, which was nearly doubled, is now more advantageous than itemizing deductions.
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Should you wait until July 15 to file?
Most taxpayers expecting a refund would benefit by filing sooner than later. If you believe you’re likely to owe taxes, however, deferring filing federal income tax payments to July 15 won’t result in extra interest or penalty, regardless of the amount owed.
Just make sure that your state doesn’t require tax to be filed prior to July 15. While most states assessing a state income tax have also extended their deadline to July 15, it’s important to double-check that the state income tax filing deadline has been extended, and that interest and penalties are being waived. Usually, state income tax filings are a function of an individual federal tax filing.
How filing may affect your COVID-19 stimulus check
When deciding whether to file your taxes sooner or later, you may also want to consider the stimulus checks the government is sending to taxpayers as part of the coronavirus stimulus package.
There are some cases in which you might receive a larger stimulus check by waiting until July to file. For instance, if you were a single status filer in 2018 with an AGI of less than $75,000, and your AGI is greater than $75,000 this year, then postponing your filing until you receive stimulus funds may be advantageous.
Similarly, there may be cases where you may want to file as soon as possible if your income declined in 2019. If a single filer’s AGI was greater than $99,000 in 2018, and is less than $99,000 this year, then the filer’s stimulus funds may be based on those higher 2018 earnings.
Regardless, as the stimulus check is technically an advance of a refundable credit on income eligible taxpayers earn in 2020, any shortfall can be remedied when you file 2020 income tax. You’ll just have to wait longer for those funds.
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Using IRS Statistics of Income data, we compared aggregate and metro-level data of 157 metro areas to determine the average amounts of tax refunds by metro area, as well as the average amounts owed at filing, for returns filed from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018.
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