Average 2021 tax refund up from past 3 years

The agency has a backlog of 35 million unprocessed returns

The 2021 tax season was the "quintessential definition of a perfect storm" according to officials, but the total average refund from the returns processed so far is slightly higher than previous tax seasons.

National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins said in a report to Congress issued this week that the average refund so far for the 2021 season is $2,827, which is about 2% higher when compared with the past three years. The average refund in 2020 was $2,748, while the averages came out to $2,725 in 2019 and $2,780 in 2018.

The IRS, however, has yet to process all of the returns that taxpayers have filed.


In addition to the pandemic-related staffing challenges, the IRS was also tasked with distributing several rounds of direct payments to American households during the 2020 and 2021 tax seasons. The agency began the 2020 filing season with a backlog of more than 11 million unprocessed paper returns.

Tens of millions of returns await manual reviews and have yet to be processed.

Cumulatively, the agency is facing a backlog of 35.3 million unprocessed individual and business returns, which represents a four-fold increase over the backlog it had at the end of the 2019 filing season.

The good news is that most taxpayers – 95% of them – filed their returns electronically, and were therefore more likely to circumvent issues with backlogs and delays.


More than 148 million returns were filed this year and roughly 135.7 million have been processed.

"To state the obvious, this filing season has been challenging for tens of millions of taxpayers and anything but normal for the IRS and its employees," Collins wrote in the report.

The IRS also experienced an increase in tax return volume this year because individuals who aren’t normally required to file returns may have had to do so in order to claim their economic impact payments.

As of January, there were still more than 8 million Americans who were potentially eligible for a direct payment who had not yet received their first one.