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Report says many Americans should expect bigger tax refunds in 2019

Business Insider logo Business Insider 12/11/2018 Andy Kiersz

While filing taxes is never fun, many taxpayers get a much-needed boost from the ensuing refund. With a new tax law that went into effect at the start of 2018, many families are set to see a bigger bump to their refund checks next spring. 

A recent note from a team of UBS analysts takes a look at how tax refunds are set to change under the new law. The UBS analysts estimated an increase in overall tax refunds between $42 billion and $66 billion next year compared to the 2017 tax year. 

The $42 billion estimate came from a top-down analysis using estimates for total income and tax receipts so far in 2018 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. They then estimated changes in deductions between 2017 and 2018 based on the likely effects of the new law, in particular the larger standard deduction, which could lead to fewer tax filers itemizing deductions, and the lack of personal exemptions.

Read more: Tax Day is April 15. Here's what you can expect when filing under the new tax law

By applying the new tax rates to estimate the total amount of income taxes due in 2018 and comparing that to the above estimates of tax receipts, UBS found that the latter is about $42 billion larger than the former, giving this value for the total increase in refunds next year.

Bigger refund checks for married filers with children in 2019

UBS also did a bottom-up analysis of how various types of households would see their tax refunds affected by the new law. The analysts applied the new rates and IRS withholding guidelines to a married couple with two children filing jointly and a single filer taking the standard deduction at various income levels to estimate how refunds would change between the 2017 and 2018 tax years.

They found that most married filers with two children would see a pretty sizeable boost in their refunds for 2018 compared to 2017, especially those making under $40,000 a year and those making between $125,000 and $400,000. One of the biggest factors noted by UBS was an increase in the size of the child tax credit and in the income threshold for claiming that credit:

a screenshot of a cell phone © UBS

Meanwhile, UBS estimated that single-filers in most income brackets will see a smaller refund on average in 2018 compared to 2017:

a screenshot of a cell phone © UBS

UBS combined this bottom-up analysis with statistics on how many households fall into different income brackets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey to estimate $66 billion in aggregate refunds in 2018.

The analysts also pointed out that there will likely be geographic disparities in tax refunds next year. One of the changes in the new tax law is a $10,000 cap on the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), which previously had no upper limit. That means that high-income filers in jurisdictions with higher state and local taxes will likely have a bigger tax bill for 2018, and consequently a lower refund.

UBS named California and New York in particular as states with higher taxes and thus larger shares of residents filing with the SALT deduction, and with larger average SALT deductions claimed in the past. The new limit on that deduction likely means higher-income residents of those states will see smaller refunds next spring.


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