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IRS says time is running out to claim $1.5 billion in tax refunds

Last-minute tax filing tips
Tips to remember ahead of next week's tax deadline 03:15

Taxpayers who haven't filed their returns in a few years still have time to claim any refunds the government owes them — but that window is closing, the Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday.

Americans have left nearly $1.5 billion in refunds on the table for the 2019 tax year, the IRS estimates, with a median refund of about $890. The agency issued a bulletin reminding anyone who hasn't filed their 2019 return to do so by July 17.

"The 2019 tax returns came due during the pandemic, and many people may have overlooked or forgotten about these refunds," IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. "We recommend taxpayers start soon to make sure they don't miss out."

The IRS noted that even if people made very little money that year and didn't have any taxes withheld from their paychecks, they might still be owed a refund, such as from the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC for 2019 was available to people earning up to $50,160, depending on how many children they had.

"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," Werfel said in the statement.

Wider window

Taxpayers usually have three years from the time a tax return is due to claim any refund for that year. (There is no penalty for late filing when someone is getting a refund, unlike when they owe taxes.) 

Because the filing deadline for 2019's returns fell at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and was moved by three months to July 2020, the final date for taxpayers to file claims for 2019 refunds is July 17.

To be sure, taxpayers who file delayed returns may get more or less money back, depending on whether they owe the government money for other reasons. For people behind on other payments, "the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or a state tax agency and may be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans," the IRS said.

The agency also noted that it could hold on to 2019 refunds if people file a 2019 tax return but haven't yet filed returns for 2020 and 2021. 

But if people haven't filed because they've lost payment records from years ago, they can obtain that information from the IRS itself in the form of a transcript.

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