What is the Average Tax Refund? $3,226 (as of 5/20/22)

Ever wonder what the average tax refund is? Wonder no more because the IRS publishes statistics every week!

I’ve been watching the average tax refund statistic for years and it’s always been around $3,000. Last year, it ended up just over $2800.

For the 2021 filing season average tax refund is (as of May 20th, the last week they updated the stats for the year):

$3,039

That’s based on nearly 145 million tax returns received, of which 140.6 million have been processed.

At around this time last year, the average tax refund was $2,827. Remember, refunds are just how much people have overpaid taxes.

Normally, if taxpayers didn’t adjust their withholding in the middle of the year, the smaller refund means, in aggregate, people are paying more in taxes.

As is always the case, we’ll probably see a slightly higher average tax refund now as those who know they are owed a refund will likely file as soon as possible. Those who owe can wait and so the average tends to slide as the tax season wears on.

Table of Contents
  1. Historical Average Refund Amounts
  2. What can you buy with the average tax refund?
  3. What should you do if you have a huge tax refund?
  4. How do you compare with other taxpayers?

Historical Average Refund Amounts

The average refund rate tends to fall as we near tax day (April 15th normally) and keep drifting down. The folks due a refund want to file as early as possible. The folks who owe taxes are going to wait with the procrastinators. This year will be different but since there were no major tax law changes, it’ll probably be similar.

How does this compare to previous years?

Here are the previous year’s average refund amounts:

Tax Filing YearAverage Tax Refund
2021$2,879
2020$2,767
2019$2,869
2018$2,910
2017$2,888
2016$2,832
2015$2,797
2014$2,792
2013$2,755
2012$2,803
2011$3,129
2010$3,149

If you need help, here are some tips to getting a bigger tax refund.

What can you buy with the average tax refund?

Hmmm… let’s say it ends up with $2,878 to play with. (we did the math based on March 31st, 2017 numbers when the average refund was $2,878 — it’s similar so you get the idea!)

How about:

Finally, if you have credit card debt, making a $2,878 payment on it now rather than paying the minimum each month will save you $2,347 in interest. You’ll nearly double your money in a relatively short period of time.

Here’s the math on that…
A $5,000 credit card debt at 18% and minimum payments of $125 will be fully paid off in 5 years and 2 months. You’ll pay $7693, 35% of which ($2,693) will be interest.

 

Chop off the value of your tax refund (if it’s average), and now a $2,122 balance with the same APR and monthly payment, will be done in 1 year and 8 months. You’ll pay $2,468, 14% of which ($346) will be bank interest.

The difference is $2,347.

What should you do if you have a huge tax refund?

$3,000 is a lot of money.

All it means is that the government withheld more than necessary from your paycheck. The government isn’t mean – they take out what you tell them to take out.

How do you fix this? You need to submit a new W-4 with your employer. The Form W-4 is what your employer uses to calculate how much federal income tax to hold back. This is required by law, you’re supposed to pay taxes on your earnings as you collect them.

How do you compare with other taxpayers?

This is where the average tax refund statistic can be misleading.

It’s not a measure of how much in taxes you’re paying, it’s only telling you how much you overpaid.

People with big tax refunds aren’t “better” at doing their taxes. They didn’t find more deductions or more credits, they simply overpaid their taxes throughout the year.

The closest figure for that is average tax rates. For that, we turn to The Joint Committee on Taxation and their look of the Federal Tax System for 2015. The Tax Foundation did us a favor and in their look at average tax rates from 2015, produced this chart:

If you use tax preparation software or a tax preparer, you probably get all the deductions and credits you’re due. You probably could’ve played a year end tax move games but you’re not missing out on a huge deduction or credit that other people know about but you don’t. (if you e-file, you’ll get that tax refund very quickly)

If you get a massive tax refund, you should adjust your withholding to make the refund smaller.

How much was your refund this year and what do you plan on doing with it?

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

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What Happens if You Don’t File Your Taxes?

It’s common knowledge that you can be audited if you lie on your tax return, but what happens when you don’t pay your taxes? Will the IRS realize one missing tax return of the 195 million returns filed each year? While it’s possible to sneak below the radar, there can be stiff financial and legal penalties.

How Are Job Bonuses Taxed?

The annual bonus has to be one of the best workplace benefits. After all, you can do plenty of things with a few extra dollars in your pocket that you don’t have to work extra hours for. This guide covers how bonuses are taxed and how you might be able to minimize your tax bite.

About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  1. Troy @ Market History says

    Here in Australia we file our taxes July-Oct. As a business owner, I don’t usually get much of a tax refund.

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