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Your Tax Refund Could Be Hostage to a Government Shutdown

Last time, $2.2 billion in refunds were delayed. This year, by one estimate, it could be $8 billion, or more.

For many U.S. taxpayers, a two-week delay in receiving their refund would be an annoyance. For others, living from paycheck to paycheck, a lag of just a few days could be a crisis, busting deadlines on rent checks and car payments. For still others, careful budgeters of moderate means, it could mess up an important part of a long-term, enforced-savings plan.

If Congress and the Trump administration can't agree on a stopgap budget resolution this week, the federal government will shut down, with a cascade of consequences—delayed refunds among them. Shutdowns have been as short as one day and as long as 21 days. The last one began on Oct. 1, 2013, and lasted 16 days. More than 90 percent of Internal Revenue Service workers went on furlough that year, and some $2.2 billion in refunds to individual taxpayers were delayed, according to a November 2013 report (PDF) by the Office of Management and Budget. An additional $1.5 billion in refunds to companies was held up, and the start of the following tax season was pushed back 10 days.