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Get Your Money: The IRS has $1.5 Billion in Unclaimed Refunds

Tax Filing Taxes

Listen to this: the IRS has more than $1.5 billion in outstanding refunds remaining unclaimed from 2016.

Stacks of money

Not thousands. Not millions. Over ONE BILLION dollars are just sitting with the IRS, waiting for you to come get it.

You have three years

In most cases, you have a three-year window to file a tax return and claim any refund due to you. Once that timeframe expires, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. That means it’s no longer yours. And there is nothing you can do to get it back. You lost your right to claim it.

The three-year countdown starts on the original due date of the return or the extension due date if an extension was filed. This year that due date is July 15, 2020. If you received an extension for the 2016 return, your deadline is October 15, 2020.

Is it your money?

Every year, over a million Americans fail to file a tax return. The $1.5 billion in unclaimed refunds represents well over one million tax filers who likely qualified for a refund in 2016 but didn’t file a federal income tax return.

Many of those filers include individuals who fell below the minimum gross income levels that required them to file. In 2016, if you were a single taxpayer under the age of 65 and earned less than $6,300, you likely weren’t obligated to file a return. (For tax year 2019, single taxpayers under the age of 65 are not required to file a return if they earn less than $12,200.) 

Thinking back to 2016, if you were one of those people who didn’t file, you may want to give it a second thought. Consider this: your employer withheld income tax throughout the year and the IRS owes you that money. Just because you weren’t required to file, doesn’t mean it wasn’t in your best interest to do so.

Additionally, your level of income may qualify you for tax credits, which are only available by filing a tax return. Unclaimed 2016 tax credits represent part of the unclaimed $1 billion sitting in the IRS’ safe. For instance, if you earned a low or moderate income in 2016, you may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). If your 2016 income fell below these limits, you can likely claim the EITC by filing a federal income tax return by July 15, 2020:

  • $14,880 ($20,430 if married filing jointly) and no qualifying children
  • $39,296 ($44,846 if married filing jointly) and one qualifying child
  • $44,648 ($50,198 if married filing jointly) and two qualifying children
  • $47,955 ($53,505 if married filing jointly) and three or more qualifying children

Here are a few other possible tax credits you may qualify to claim for 2016:

  • Additional Child Tax Credit
  • American Opportunity Credit
  • Adoption Credit
  • Refundable Credit for Prior Year Minimum Tax
  • Health Coverage Tax Credit (Form 1040 required)

How to get your refund

Let’s make this really clear: To get your money, you must file a federal income tax return.

Simple, right? Well, basically.

To claim your refund for the 2016 tax year, your tax return must be postmarked on or before July 15, 2020. If submitted after that deadline, you’re likely not getting your hands on that money.

Before filing, grab your forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 from 2016. If you don’t have those old tax forms, you have a couple different options to track them down.

  1. You can request copies from your employer, bank, or other payer.
  2. You can use the Get Transcript Online tool on the IRS website to order a free wage and income transcript. Allow 10 business days for a response

Once you have your tax documents, you can use TaxAct to file your 2016 return. Simply visit TaxAct’s Prior Year Returns page to access the 2016 TaxAct Download product that’s right for you. Unfortunately, the IRS only allows filers to e-file their return for the current tax year. You cannot e-file prior year returns. Therefore, you must print and mail your return in once you complete it.

There is one small caveat to note. If you owe money for student loans, back taxes or child support, any tax refund will be offset by the amounts owed. Additionally, if you are not compliant or if you have not filed tax returns for 2017 and 2018, the IRS will likely hold your tax refund.

The money at stake

The IRS estimates the median unclaimed refund for 2016 is $861. In other words, that means half of the refunds are more than $861 and half are less.

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