IRS Has More Than $1.5 Billion In Unclaimed Tax Refunds And A Potentially Surprising Deadline

The IRS may have your money. The tax agency has announced that more than $1.5 billion in outstanding refunds remain unclaimed from the 2019 tax year. The agency estimates that more than 1.5 million taxpayers might have qualified for a refund but did not file a federal income tax return for the 2019 tax year.

Tax Refund Deadline

If you are due a refund, you must file a federal income tax return to get your money.

Taxpayers usually have three years to file and claim their tax refunds—if you don’t file within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.

Things are a little different this year—you have more time than usual to file to claim your prior year (2019) refund. That’s because the normal filing deadline to claim refunds is typically around the April tax deadline. But the filing deadline for 2019 tax returns wasn’t normal at all—it was postponed to July 15, 2020, due to the pandemic. So the three-year window from that date is July 15, 2023—except that July 15 is a Saturday in 2023, which means it gets pushed to the following Monday. (That was a lot, stay with me.)

That’s a long way of saying that to claim your refund for the 2019 tax year, your return must be postmarked on or before July 17, 2023. If you need confirmation (I know I always appreciate a primary source), check out Notice 2023-21, issued earlier this year.

What You’ll Need

If you use tax filing software, you can likely find the 2019 return pretty easily—check around for a “prior years” tab or option. If you intend to file on paper and need a copy of the 2019 tax forms, you can find forms and instructions on the Forms and Publications page. You can also call 800.TAX.FORM (800.829.3676)—it’s a toll-free number.

If you didn’t file in 2019, you might not have your tax and other records at your fingertips. Remember that you’ll need your forms W-2, 1098, 1099, or 5498 from 2019 to file. If you don’t have your old tax information forms, you can request copies from your employer, bank, or other payer. You can also order a free wage and income transcript by using the Get Transcript tool on the IRS website

Don’t Wait

The IRS encourages you not to wait. “With the pandemic taking place when the 2019 tax returns were originally due, people faced extremely unusual situations. People may have simply forgotten about tax refunds with the deadline that year postponed all the way into July,” said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel. “We frequently see students, part-time workers and others with little income overlook filing a tax return and never realize they may be owed a refund. We encourage people to review their records and start gathering records now, so they don’t run the risk of missing the July deadline.”

Potential Refunds

How much is at stake? The IRS estimates the midpoint for the potential unclaimed refunds for 2019 to be $893. That means half of the refunds are more than $893, and half are less.

Those refund amounts could be even more than the estimates since they do not include the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. That’s why you’ll see the * in the chart below – those potential refund amounts don’t factor in the EITC. For 2019, the credit was worth up to $6,557. The income thresholds for the 2019 tax year were:

  • $50,162 ($55,952 if married filing jointly) for those with three or more qualifying children;
  • $46,703 ($52,493 if married filing jointly) for people with two qualifying children;
  • $41,094 ($46,884 if married filing jointly) for those with one qualifying child, and;
  • $15,570 ($21,370 if married filing jointly) for people without qualifying children.

Why might you be due a refund for reasons other than the EITC? Maybe you had too much withholding from your wages or made too much in quarterly payments. You might not have filed because you had too little income to require filing a tax return, and you thought it wouldn’t make a difference. Remember, you can’t receive the benefit of refundable credits—or other tax breaks which might result in a refund–unless you file. And there is no penalty for failing to file when you are due a refund.

Of course, if you owe the feds money for student loans or back taxes, for example, or if your refund is otherwise earmarked for seizure, such as for child support obligations, any tax refund will be offset by the amounts owed. Additionally, if you are not compliant or have not filed tax returns for the 2020 and 2021 tax years, the IRS may hold your 2019 tax refund.

The Numbers

Who is owed the most money? By the numbers, the top ten states by estimated number of taxpayer refunds are:

By dollars, the top ten states by potential expected refund amount are:

Don’t see your state? Or eager to learn more? You can check out the full list here.

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