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New Member

Why is my federal refund so different from last year?

2 Replies
Level 15
Level 15

Why is my federal refund so different from last year?

The only way to answer your question is to compare your 2019 and 2020 tax returns line by line and see where the significant differences are. The line numbers are different, so you have to look at the descriptions of each line, not the line numbers.


Expert Alumni

Why is my federal refund so different from last year?

Refund amounts are related to the amount of taxes withheld throughout the year along with any credits a taxpayer may qualify for.  If your income (W2 Box 1)  increased somewhat and your withholding (W2 Box 2) did not increase by a significant amount, then your refund will be lower. 


If your income was about the same, but withholding went down, your refund will be less.


Additionally, if you qualified for credits in 2019 that you did not qualify for in 2020 (or qualified for a reduced rate), then your refund will be lower.


You can see a view of your Form 1040 to compare to a copy of last year's return.

  1. Click "Tax Tools" in the left hand menu
  2. Click "Tools"
  3. Click "View Tax Summary"
  4. Click "Preview My 1040" in the left hand menu


Compare lines 11 (Adjusted Gross Income) and 25 (Taxes Withheld) on your 2019 and 2020 returns. 

Also look at the credits applied in lines 21 and 32.


These should help you discern what changed from last year.  


If there is a withholding issue you should work with your employer to produce a new Form W4 to change withholding.  Remember, if more is withheld, then your paychecks will be lower, but you may get a larger refund at the end of the year.  If less is withheld, your paychecks will be more, but your refund will be lower at the end of the year.


Here is a calculator that will help with that process. 





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