Tammy Walker calls it the “refund surprise.”
Customers “have more in their paychecks but less (taxes) taken out in their paychecks,” said the office manager at the H&R Block office off Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville. “They don’t have as much withheld, so that creates that balance due.”
Or, for the more fortunate, smaller refunds.
Such is a major theme of the 2019 tax season, which draws to a close for most Americans with the filing deadline on Monday, April 15.
This time of year is always frenetic for taxpayers and tax preparers, but this year has a special twist as the congressional passage of a 2017 law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, overhauling taxes in 2018, now comes home to roost.
“We’ve learned there’s a high level of anxiety about filing tax returns this year because of perceived and — in some cases, confirmed — information through people who have filed that their refunds are less this tax season,” said Dennis Smith, district manager with Jackson Hewitt Tax Service corporate offices in Atlanta. “Taxpayers are not happy about that. They feel that, in a lot of ways, misinformed about tax reform. And they’re really reluctant to file because they’re going to get a lot less or they’re going to owe.”
Retiree Charles Haralson of Murrayville, walking out of H&R Block last week with a freshly completed return, said he knew about the tax changes — thanks to an ongoing relationship with the tax preparation firm — and was pleased with the outcome.
“I got a little more this year on account of the big change,” he said.
Crystal Hebenth, getting her returns done at the Jackson Hewitt office on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, said she hasn’t seen much change in her tax situation this year, but otherwise “it’s worked out pretty good. I’m happy with the outcome.”
“There’s definitely family members I have that … it’s been better for them,” she said.
Asked about the reactions to tax changes from her customers, Donna Hollingsworth, senior tax preparer for Jackson Hewitt at the Gainesville location, said, “It’s a mixed bag.”
“Usually, people who have dependents end up gaining (in refunds),” she said. “Folks who don’t have any dependents … are not getting back as much as they thought or, in some cases, they’re having to pay.”
Overall, even though refunds are less, the tax obligation for many Americans has dropped.
In the 2017 law, most individual income tax rates were lowered and the child tax credit was doubled. Personal exemptions have been removed, but the standard deduction was increased to a level that some taxpayers may no longer have to itemize deductions.
“Many of the people we’ve talked to don’t know (about the tax changes) and unfortunately, don’t know where to ask,” Smith said. “You might find that unusual in the social media age we’re in, but it’s very true.”
Americans unaware of the 2017 law may have gotten a clue in February 2018, when an estimated 90 percent of workers started seeing their paychecks getting bigger.
Employers were required to abide by new IRS withholding guidelines produced after the law’s passage. Employees may have even had to file new withholding forms.
Supporters of the tax law said the bottom line was most Americans were paying less in federal taxes.
“$100 or $200 more a month in your paycheck — that’s not crumbs,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, in early 2018.
The comment was a reference to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi describing as “crumbs” the bonuses of $1,000 or more that some companies were giving their workers as a result of the tax cuts.
“That’s how you buy your kids new sneakers. That’s how you pay for piano lessons,” Collins said. “That’s the kind of stuff the individual rates are doing, and it encourages the economy.”
Also, as part of the federal law, the tax rate for businesses was dropped to 21 percent from 35 percent, prompting at least one Hall County company, Mincey Marble, to share the savings with employees through bonuses.
Businesses have been pleased with their returns, said Perry Barnett, certified public accountant and partner with Rushton in Gainesville.
In addition to the rate cuts, “deducting equipment and assets has been expanded a decent amount, and that’s really helped them,” he said.
“You add all these things together and they’re getting some pretty good benefits,” Barnett said.