Tax reform impact: Millennials see smallest bump in federal refunds, Gen Z sees largest

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In a Nutshell

The IRS reports that federal refunds overall are down about 0.7% on average from last tax season. An analysis of Credit Karma Tax data indicates that average federal refund amounts can vary according to age and income.

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Americans overall have seen their federal tax refunds shrink from last tax season to this one by about 0.7% on average, according to the IRS. A review of Credit Karma Tax filers shows some age groups and income brackets faring better than others.

To find out how average federal refunds differed when looking at different age groups, income and marital status, we compared members who filed with Credit Karma Tax within the first two months of the current filing season with members who filed during that period last year.

Notably, we found that Gen Z filers (18–24) and those 65 and older on saw the biggest percentage increase in refund amounts on average year over year. While millennial filers (25–39) also saw a year-to-year gain on average, it was the smallest increase among all age groups. (Learn about our methodology.)

Key findings among early Credit Karma Tax filers

Gen Z filers saw an increase of 24% in the average federal refund amount between tax years 2017 and 2018 — the largest increase overall among age groups. Millennials had the smallest increase, just 3% on average year over year.
Among all age groups, filers age 40-44 saw the largest average federal refund amount ($2,034 — an 18% year-over-year increase) for the tax year 2018, while those 65 and older have gotten the smallest amount back on average (just $789).
Filers with more than five dependents, and who owed tax, saw a 29% increase in the average amount they owed.

Amounts refunded and owed — by age, income and filing status

How Americans seem to be faring this tax season appears to depend on the lens you’re looking through, according to our review of Credit Karma Tax filers.

Age

  • Gen Z (age 18–24) and baby boomer (65 and older) Credit Karma Tax filers saw average refunds increase by 24% and 20%, respectively. Even though baby boomers saw the lowest average refund amount of $789, this was up from $658 last year.
  • Millennial Credit Karma Tax filers experienced the smallest federal refund increase of just 3%.
  • Credit Karma Tax filers age 55–64 experienced a 4% decline in their average federal refund amounts.
Average federal refund by age, among early Credit Karma Tax filers
Age range 2017 tax year 2018 tax year Percent change
18–24 $719 $889 24%
25–39 $1,319 $1,352 3%
40–44 $1,727 $2,034 18%
45–54 $1,361 $1,431 5%
55–64 $1,132 $1,089 -4%
65 and older $658 $789 20%

By income

  • Average federal refund amounts for Credit Karma Tax filers making $30,000 or less increased 8% year over year.
  • Those with income of $30,001-$50,000 and $150,001-$175,000 saw their average refund amounts decrease by 4%.
Average federal refund by income, among early Credit Karma Tax filers
Income bracket 2017 tax year 2018 tax year Percent change
$30,000 or less $909 $983 8%
$30,001–$50,000 $1,300 $1,250 -4%
$50,001–$75,000 $1,761 $1,821 3%
$75,001–$100,000 $1,960 $2,007 2%
$100,001–$125,000 $2,258 $2,289 1%
$125,001–$150,000 $2,394 $2,380 -1%
$150,001–$175,000 $2,815 $2,701.5 -4%
More than $175,000 $3,261 $3,481.5 7%

By filing status and dependents

  • Credit Karma Tax filers who filed as qualifying widowers and those married filing jointly experienced the greatest percentage changes in median federal refund amounts — increases of 20% and 19%, respectively.
  • Among Credit Karma Tax filers, single filers had only a 2% increase in median federal refund amounts.
  • Credit Karma Tax filers filing as qualifying widowers who owed saw the largest decrease in median amount owed (55%).
  • Those married filing jointly with Credit Karma Tax had the smallest decrease in median amount owed (17%).
Median federal refund by marital status, among early Credit Karma Tax filers
2017 2018 Percentage Change
Head of household $3,708 $4,316 16%
Married filing jointly $2,034 $2,430 19%
Married filing separately $978 $1,037 6%
Qualifying widower $3,081 $3,709 20%
Single $954 $971 2%

And it appears tax reform is a mixed bag for Credit Karma Tax filers with more than five qualifying dependents.

  • For those who got a federal refund, their average refund rose 19%.
  • Among those who owed, the average amount owed rose 29%.

What it all means

It’s important to note that we analyzed Credit Karma Tax filer data available through March 28, 2019 — so we may see these numbers change as Tax Day approaches.

Regardless, the biggest takeaway from this analysis is that while many factors can influence how much any individual filer will receive as a refund or how much they will owe, average amounts seem to vary depending on the age and income groups you’re looking at — as well as filing status and numbers of dependents.


Methodology

To determine how federal refunds and tax bills changed year over year, we analyzed Credit Karma Tax member data for those who filed their 2018 federal taxes with Credit Karma Tax between Jan. 28, 2019, and March 28, 2019, compared to those Credit Karma Tax members who filed their 2017 federal taxes with Credit Karma Tax between Jan. 27, 2018, and March 27, 2018.

The data reflect anticipated federal refunds barring any changes by the IRS. These findings are subject to change as more people file their 2018 federal returns.