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Americans Hit With Smaller Tax Returns

Tax season normally kicks off toward the end of January

Millions of Americans will receive smaller tax refunds, or get hit with a surprise tax bill this year, because of changes to the law.

Ashley Lordi wants to open a fitness boutique in Chicago. She’s working with her accountant to make sure it’s still a reality, now that she owes a lot more to the IRS.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "We’ve since had to pull back on some of the construction we were doing, or the lighting, just within the budget that we set."

As an independent contractor, she’s used to paying taxes, but usually a lump sum. This year, she’s spreading it out on a payment plan.

"It’s probably doubled this year than in previous years, so that was a little unexpected," she said.

Lordi is not alone. 30 million Americans are expected to owe money this year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

It's not all doom and gloom, however. After the fourth week of tax season, refunds are now larger than they were last year. According to the IRS, the average tax refund has now increased to $3,143, up from $3,103 compared to last year, about $40 more. That's a reversal from the last three weeks when smaller refunds were being issued at about $186 less than last year.

But the new tax law doubled the standard deduction for most and ended personal exemptions.

Tax consultant Alex Afshari has seen an influx in clientele because of the confusion. He says the most important thing to do is change your withholding.

"A lot of people have created a pattern from previous years, where they elected two, three, four and they were still able to get a nice tax refund because they have dependents or other personal exemptions," he said. "But since they don’t have that anymore, they’re unable to capitalize on it."

As for Lordi, she’ll be cutting back on spending.

"I have to be a little bit more frugal with my expenses now," she said.

Ladder Up, a Chicago nonprofit, has a list of free resources available to taxpayers.

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