By Carlo Versano

Tax filing season is officially upon us, just as the IRS returns to full strength following the five-week government shutdown. But tax filers should expect some turbulence along the way, said Nicole Kaeding, director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation, a tax policy think tank.

Before the shutdown threw a wrench in things, the IRS was already anticipating some headaches, given that 2019 marks the first tax year since President Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into full effect ー the first overhaul of the tax system in three decades. That law affects every taxpaying household, and while 80 percent of Americans have a lower tax liability as a result, Kaeding said, many refunds will smaller than in past years because more taxpayers had less taken out of their paychecks through the year.

Last year, the average refund was $3,000. This year, "they might not be as big," according to Kaeding.

But because of the shutdown, furloughed IRS employees are coming back to face an estimated 5 million pieces of unopened mail, which could take them 12 to 18 months to sort, Kaeding said, though the administration still says it expects a fairly smooth tax season.

By Feb. 15 last year, tax agents had already processed $100 billion in refunds, as mostly low- and middle-income taxpayers tend to file quickly to take advantage of tax credits. This year on Feb. 15, the government could conceivably shut down again. Even if it doesn't, taxpayers should plan for some slowness in receiving their refunds as the IRS works through the backlog from the last five weeks.

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