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Tax Refunds Are $3,651 on Average — See How Much Taxpayers in Your State Receive

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Tax Day is fast approaching, with April 18 being the last day that most can file their 2021 taxes.

To honor Americans’ annual ritual of squaring up with Uncle Sam, LendingTree researchers analyzed the latest IRS data to see which states’ taxpayers got the biggest average refunds — and which saw the smallest. We also looked at where taxpayers owe the most.

The average refund for tax year 2019 — the latest available data that includes all returns — was $3,651, just slightly below the average refund of $3,660 in tax year 2018.

Some Americans look forward to getting a big tax refund after overpaying throughout the year. With rising gas prices and inflation, a tax refund could be a good opportunity to get a much-needed financial pick-me-up.

Key findings

  • Three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers received a refund for tax year 2019 — the latest available data — at an average of $3,651. That’s nearly identical to the $3,660 average for tax year 2018.
  • Taxpayers in Wyoming received the largest average tax refunds at $5,027. This is the second year in a row that Wyoming topped the list, up 8% from $4,602 the previous tax season. Wyoming was followed by Connecticut ($4,461) and New York ($4,444).
  • Taxpayers in Maine received the smallest average tax refunds at $2,752. Maine was last the previous tax season, too, but at a nearly identical $2,743. Taxpayers in Oregon ($2,896) and Vermont ($2,924) were just ahead of Maine in receiving the lowest average refund in the tax year 2019.
  • Just more than a fifth (21%) of U.S. taxpayers owed the IRS money in the tax year 2019, at an average of $5,893. Residents of Massachusetts ($7,605), Wyoming ($7,541) and Washington ($7,145) owed the most. California had the highest percentage of taxpayers who owed refunds at 26%, followed by four states at 25%.

75% of U.S. taxpayers received refund

Three-quarters of taxpayers received a federal tax refund in 2019 — the latest tax year with available data on all returns (including single, joint and head of household returns).

At an average refund of $3,651 among U.S. taxpayers, the amount was nearly identical to the average in the prior tax year (2018) at $3,660.

Although 75% of taxpayers received a refund in tax year 2019, LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz cautions against celebrating too much. Instead of working on getting a big refund, Schulz argues that people should try to get their tax bill to zero.

“While it might feel amazing to get a big refund, the truth is that a refund means that you’ve overpaid and essentially given the government an interest-free loan for no reason,” Schulz says. “That’s a big deal because that money could have instead helped you pay bills throughout the year, build up your emergency fund or even pay off some debt.”

Though he’s not a big advocate of overpaying taxes, Schulz admits there are scenarios when getting a refund makes sense.

“If you don’t trust yourself to be smart with the extra money you’d receive throughout the year, then a big refund might make sense,” he says. “But only if you use it for a good purpose.”

States with the largest average refunds

Wyoming taxpayers received an average refund in tax year 2019 of $5,027. Residents in the Equality State got the largest average financial boost from Uncle Sam, with 77% of taxpayers getting a refund.

Largest average refunds (by state)

RankStatePercentage of taxpayers getting a refundAverage refund
1Wyoming77%$5,027
2Connecticut74%$4,461
3New York75%$4,444
4District of Columbia73%$4,356
5Florida75%$4,301

Source: LendingTree analysis of IRS tax year 2019 data.

After Wyoming, the states with the largest average tax refunds were Connecticut, New York, the District of Columbia and Florida. With representation from the Northeast, South and West, no single region received a disproportionate average refund amount.

Wyoming also had the largest average refunds in the prior tax year, 2018. The average refund for Wyoming residents was $4,602 in 2018, equating to an 8% year-over-year increase. No other state in the top five approached a similar increase; the four other states at the top saw average year-over-year changes between a 1% decrease and a 2% increase.

The state with the next highest year-over-year increase in average refunds was New Jersey at 5%. But at an average refund of $3,986 in tax year 2019, New Jersey’s average was still about $1,000 less than in Wyoming.

States with the smallest average refunds

Maine earns the dubious honor of being the state with the smallest average tax refund at $2,752. It also had the smallest refund in tax year 2018, at $2,743.

Here are the states with the lowest average refunds:

Smallest average refunds (by state)

RankStatePercentage of taxpayers getting a refundAverage refund
1Maine76%$2,752
2Oregon71%$2,896
3Vermont75%$2,924
4Iowa77%$2,952
5West Virginia82%$2,963

Source: LendingTree analysis of IRS tax year 2019 data.

Although West Virginia ranks among the states with the smallest average refunds, it has the highest percentage of taxpayers receiving a refund at 82%. Although the average refund is comparable to the amount in tax year 2018, a slightly smaller percentage of taxpayers in West Virginia received a refund in 2019.

Iowa, among the states with the smallest average refunds, tied for the biggest drop between the 2018 and 2019 tax years. Along with Nevada and Illinois, Iowa saw its average return shrink 4% from the previous year.

More than 1 in 5 Americans owed taxes

While most taxpayers can look forward to a refund, a little more than 1 in 5 U.S. taxpayers (21%) ended up owing Uncle Sam. The average tax bill was $5,893.

Largest average tax bills (by state)

RankStatePercentage of taxpayers who owe taxesAverage owed
1Massachusetts23%$7,605
2Wyoming20%$7,541
3Washington23%$7,145
4New Hampshire20%$7,084
5Connecticut22%$7,063

Source: LendingTree analysis of IRS tax year 2019 data.

Residents of Massachusetts ended up paying the most, with an average tax bill of $7,605. Wyoming residents — who earned the honor of receiving the largest average refunds — had the second-largest tax bills at an average of $7,541.

Washington state and two other New England states — Connecticut and New Hampshire — rounded out the top five by largest average tax bills.

Residents on West Coast and in or near D.C. more likely to owe Uncle Sam

While 21% of taxpayers nationwide owed taxes, those in some states showed a higher likelihood of owing taxes. Residents of California — the Golden State — had the highest percentage of taxpayers parting with the treasure at 26%.

Just behind California, 1 in 4 taxpayers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Colorado and Oregon owed the IRS. Although the amounts owed on average were lower than the five states noted above, a greater percentage of residents owed the IRS. Oregon also had the second-lowest average refunds.

States with the smallest average tax bills

West Virginia was not only at the bottom for refund size, but it also had the lowest average taxes owed. At an average of $4,092, West Virginia residents paid about $1,800 less than the national average and over $3,500 less on average than their Massachusetts counterparts.

With only 14% of taxpayers owing, West Virginia had the lowest percentage of taxpayers owing at filing.

Smallest average tax bills (by state)

RankStatePercentage of taxpayers who owe taxesAverage owed
1West Virginia14%$4,092
2Mississippi18%$4,117
3Iowa20%$4,304
4Ohio18%$4,414
5Michigan18%$4,466

Source: LendingTree analysis of IRS tax year 2019 data.

Several Midwestern states, including Michigan, Ohio and Iowa, were among those with the lowest average tax bills.

Full rankings

Tax Day is approaching — here are tips to prepare (and be ready for next year)

Tax Day is almost here, so if you still need to file — or want to get ahead for next year — here’s some general advice:

  • Gather your paperwork. Filing your taxes may involve a lot of paperwork, so make sure you have the required documents beforehand. If you earned wages at a traditional 9-to-5 or a part-time job, you’d receive a W-2 from your employer; if you’re a freelancer, look out for 1099s.
  • Use IRS Free File. While several companies offer online tax-filing programs with fancy questionnaires, some of these services come with fees. The IRS offers Free File, which provides free, fillable forms for taxpayers of any income level. And if your adjusted gross income is $73,000 or less, you may qualify for free tax preparation. Note that this is only available for federal forms, so check with your state’s tax department to see if there’s a similar service available for your state income taxes.
  • Consult a professional — but make sure they’re legitimate. Sometimes it’s easier to trust a professional to help you file. If that is the right choice for you, make sure you choose someone qualified, like a certified public accountant (CPA).
“Taxes are complicated,” Schulz says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are countless professional resources out there to help you make sure you’re on the right track.”

“Consider asking friends or family if they have someone that they trust to help them with their taxes. It can be money well-spent.”

  • Reconcile your economic impact payment or claim the Recovery Rebate Credit. If you received the third economic impact payment (commonly referred to as a stimulus check), you should have received a Letter 6475 documenting the amount. If you didn’t receive one and qualify, you may be able to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit.
  • Claim or reconcile advance child tax credits. If you received advance child tax credit payments in 2021, you’ll need to reconcile that amount with the amount you should receive on your 2021 tax return. The IRS sent Letter 6419s to taxpayers who received the advance payments. If you received less than the amount for which you qualified, you’d be eligible to claim the child tax credit.
  • Request an extension. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t make the deadline. If that’s the case, you can request a six-month extension to file until Oct. 17, 2022. However, that doesn’t mean you get an extension to pay your taxes — in fact, you’ll have to pay estimated taxes to avoid any late fees. Extension requests are due by April 18, the standard filing deadline.
“One big reason to request an extension is to reduce the amount of penalties you’ll be hit with if you need more time to pay your tax bill,” Schulz says. “You’ll still be charged interest and a late-payment penalty if you pay late, but the amount you owe will be significantly less if you are granted an extension.”
  • Set up direct deposit. If you’re anxious to get your return as quickly as possible, file electronically and sign up for direct deposit. The IRS states that direct deposit is the fastest way to receive a refund. The IRS issues most refunds within 21 days of accepting a return. Although that’s not a guaranteed timeline, direct deposit should make it quicker.
  • Adjust your tax withholdings for next tax year. “If you find yourself either paying a lot or getting a lot back when you file taxes every year, adjusting your withholding can help you get that number closer to zero,” Schulz says. As a starting point, check out the IRS withholding estimator tool. Once you’ve decided what’s best for you, talk to your human resources or payroll department about adjusting your W-4 withholdings. “It may not feel great to have that extra money taken out of every paycheck, but it sure can be better than writing a massive check to Uncle Sam every April,” Schulz says.
  • Make sure your return is complete and error-free. If your return is incomplete or contains errors, you may have to submit an amended return. Although the IRS strives to issue refunds within 21 days of filing, inaccurate or missing information could result in a delay.
  • Think twice about paying with a credit card. Schulz cautions taxpayers before paying their taxes with a credit card. “The lure of getting points or cash back on that tax bill can be pretty enticing, but the truth is that the math often doesn’t work in your favor,” he says. “Most services charge you about a 2% fee for paying taxes with your card, so unless you can guarantee yourself more than a 2% return in rewards, it likely isn’t worth the effort.” If you can’t pay the tax bill off immediately, it may be better to look for a payment plan than putting your taxes on a card. “Once you factor in credit card APRs, the deal just looks worse and worse,” he says.
What if you’re struggling to pay your taxes?

If you’re hit with a big tax bill and struggling to pay or if you owe back taxes, the IRS offers tax debt relief programs. These include short-term payment plans, long-term payment plans lasting more than 120 days and offers in compromise. Several of these plans have limits on the amount of taxes owed, and some include fees, so you’ll want to determine if this is the best fit for your needs.

There are also tax debt relief companies that act as middlemen between you and the IRS — but proceed with caution. Scammers can operate under the pretext of tax relief to glean your personal information. Most of these companies use the same programs the IRS offers directly to taxpayers, so you may be better off working with the IRS directly.

Methodology

LendingTree researchers analyzed federal individual income tax returns (Form 1040s) filed from Jan. 1, 2020-Dec. 31, 2020, for tax year 2019 — the latest available data — from the IRS’ Statistics of Income program.

Due to processing delays from the COVID-19 pandemic, this data also includes paper returns filed through mid-July 2021 for tax year 2019. The IRS also notes that a limited number of returns are included for tax years before 2019. The IRS defines this as ​​a “proxy for returns that are typically filed beyond the 12-month period.”

To estimate the average refund in the U.S. and each state, researchers divided the total amount refunded by the number of people who received refunds. To determine who owed money, researchers divided the total amount owed by the number of people who owed taxes.

 

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