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IRS paid $6 billion less in refunds than last year

(CNN) — Americans planning to file taxes at the 11th hour this weekend should plan for some sticker shock.

Your refund probably won’t be as big as last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Uncle Sam took a bigger bite out of your income.

The government’s early filing data shows the IRS has paid $6 billion less in refunds this tax season — a 3 percent drop over last year.

The data shows the average refund paid out through the end of March was about $2,800 bucks, roughly $20 less than 2018.

Blame the new tax law that adjusted IRS withholding tables in early 2018.

The result was Uncle Sam taking a little less out of some people’s paychecks during most of last year.

The Brookings Institute estimates 80 percent of Americans paid an average of $2,100 less in taxes in 2018

The reduction was applied to paychecks throughout the year versus a large single lump sum refund check, meaning taxpayers may feel a bigger pinch this refund season, explains Financial Planner Tim Steffen.

“Obviously it doesn’t feel the same, but it works the same ultimately. It’s the same dollar amount you would have gotten back, you just got it in smaller pieces, so it’s maybe not as noticeable for a lot of people,” said Tim Steffen, director of Advanced Planning, BAIRD.

Getting to keep more of your income throughout the year is a good thing.

But financial experts expect plenty of disappointment as people often look at refunds as a sort of forced savings plan, using the extra money to pay mortgages, bills or maybe a family getaway.

“I usually pay my house insurance in full, car insurance in full for the year, and that still leaves me extra to go on a nice vacation,” said Melissa Velez, a taxpayer

Taxpayers like Velez can still do that next year, says Steffen.

“Instead of doing it in a lump sum at the end of the year when you get your refund, do it monthly as part of a monthly automatic withdrawal out of your paycheck or out of your checking account or something like that. It’s probably a better way to save anyway, to do it on a regular monthly basis or recurring basis rather than a one time a year thing when you have some extra cash,” Steffen said.

The size of your refund may also depend on the political dynamics of your state.

The new tax law causes people in states with high tax rates to receive lower refunds.

According to Steffen, states with the highest tax rates tend to be more blue than red so more people living in red states are getting bigger refunds this year.