by Walter Hamilton
February 8, 20136:00 a.m.
The Internal Revenue Service is far behind its normal pace in processing federal tax returns and mailing billions of dollars in refunds, according to a new report.
Through Feb. 3, the agency sent out only about $4.3 billion in refunds, according to the analysis by Nicolas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group in new York.
That’s far behind the $26.9 billion in refunds issued at this point in 2012. That’s a difference of $22.6 billion.
And 2012 itself was a slow year because the IRS was grappling with security issues, according to Colas. Going back to 2005, the IRS normally has mailed $30 billion to $40 billion in refunds by this point.
This year’s delay is an unwelcome byproduct of Congress’ acrimonious standoff over the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of last year, according to Colas. The IRS had to wait for the year-end jockeying to conclude before it could determine exact tax policy and print the appropriate forms.
The agency only began accepting returns from individual taxpayers on Jan. 30. And those with more complicated returns — such as small businesses claiming depreciation credits and families with educational write-offs — won’t even be able to file for several more weeks because the applicable forms aren’t ready yet.
Aside from the annoyance for people awaiting a return of their money, the delay could weigh on the economy in the early part of 2013.
About 80 million filers, or 58% of the total, get money back each year, Colas wrote. The average refund is $2,927, or an entire month of take-home pay for a family earning the median annual income of $50,054 (assuming a 20% tax hit).
As Colas points out, $22.6 billion equates to 900,000 new cars at $25,000 each or 113,000 new homes at $200,000 each.
“This is real money to most American households,” Colas wrote.