Color of Money: CPA experts answer the most common 2019 tax-return questions

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- Some taxpayers are feeling a little battle weary after filing their 2018 returns.

People are shell-shocked. Either they got less of a refund than they expected, or they've been hit with a surprise tax bill because they didn't adjust their withholdings to account for changes to the tax code.

Others are upset that they discovered a favorite tax break was no longer allowed.

Let's start with the fluctuating figures on refunds. The season started with a downward trend for average refund amounts. The IRS is due to release another filing season report this week. Initial reports showed tax refunds being down -- in one week by as much as 16.8 percent -- compared to the same period a year earlier. But last week, the IRS said refunds were up slightly by 1.3 percent, or $40. The average refund as of Feb. 22 was $3,143, an increase from $3,103 the year before. The increase could in part be because the IRS couldn't by law issue refunds before Feb. 15 to people claiming the lucrative earned-income tax credit or the additional child tax credit.

Some of the biggest changes to the tax code in decades took effect last year, and here's input from members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) on the most common tax questions they're getting from clients.

Q: Is it true that I will be paying less in taxes and getting a bigger refund this year?

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A: "Lower overall taxes don't always translate to a bigger refund during tax time," says Cari Weston, a CPA and director of Tax Practice & Ethics for AICPA. "The IRS issued new withholding tables in early 2018, and many of the tax savings have been paid throughout the year. So, if your refund is not what you were expecting, go back to your paystubs and see if you got a little more in each check."

Q: Can I still deduct business meals and entertainment expenses?

A: "Entertainment expenses are non-deductible, and calling them marketing expenses won't help," Weston says. "With some recent guidance from the IRS in October, most normal business meals will still be 50 percent deductible."

Q: Did the home-office deduction go away?


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