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Average tax refund in 2010: $3,003

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Taxpayers received an average refund of about $3,000 last year -- a 5% boost from the previous year.

The Internal Revenue Service doled out refunds totaling $328 billion -- a nearly 3% rise from 2009 -- to taxpayers who filed their 2009 tax returns last year, the agency reported.

That comes out to $3,003 apiece, up 5% from the average refund of $2,859 taxpayers received in 2009, according the latest filing statistics from the IRS.

The jump was one of the biggest in years, thanks in part to several tax credits introduced as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Homebuyer Tax Credit -- which gave buyers up to $8,000 for purchasing a home -- was expanded to include more taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the refundable American Opportunity Credit helped more students and parents pay for college tuition and course materials. It temporarily replaced the $700 non-refundable Hope Credit and gave students with income of $80,000 or less a credit of up to $2,500 a year.

(The Making Work Pay credit was part of the ARRA as well, but it didn't show up in refunds. Instead, it was distributed in paychecks.)

Refunds also likely received a boost from the sluggish unemployment picture, said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

"Withholdings are based on the assumption that you are making the same amount of money the whole year," he said. "So one of the things that really affects refunds is that if people only work part of the year, they typically have more withheld than they even need to pay their taxes. That's a small benefit from being unemployed."

The increase in refund amounts last year came even as the number of refunds issued slipped 2.1% to 109,376,000.

While the majority of Americans receive refunds and many taxpayers look forward to getting that check in the mail, it's sometimes easy to forget that it's your own money to begin with. All you did was overpay the government during the year.

"In one sense people like to get a refund because it's nice to know that refund is eventually coming -- they can file their taxes and not think about it again," said Williams. "But really, it's just an interest free loan to the government." To top of page

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