Unclaimed refunds totaling more than $2 billion are awaiting about 1.7 million people who failed to file an income tax return for 2001, the Internal Revenue Service announced this week. However, in order to collect the money, a return must be filed with the IRS no later than April 15, 2005.
The IRS estimates that half of those who could claim refunds would receive more than $484. In some cases, individuals had taxes withheld from their wages or made payments against their taxes out of self-employed earnings but had too little income to require filing a tax return. Some taxpayers may also be eligible for the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.
“The window is closing for 2001 refunds,” IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said. “As soon as you send us your tax return, you’ll get your money. But if you don’t file, you won’t get anything.”
In cases where a return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity to claim a refund. If no return is filed to claim the refund within three years, the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury. For 2001 returns, the window closes on April 15, 2005. The law requires that the return be properly addressed, postmarked and mailed by that date. There is no penalty assessed by the IRS for filing a late return qualifying for a refund.
The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a 2001 refund that their checks will be held if they have not filed tax returns for 2002 or 2003. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS and may be used to satisfy unpaid child support or past due federal debts such as student loans.
By failing to file a return, individuals stand to lose more than refunds of taxes withheld or paid during 2001. Many low-income workers may not have claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Although eligible taxpayers may get a refund when their EITC is more than their tax, those who file returns more than three years late would be able only to offset their tax. They would not be able to receive refunds if the credit exceeds their tax.
Generally, individuals qualified for the EITC in 2001 if they earned less than $32,121 and had two or more qualifying children living with them, earned less than $28,281 with one qualifying child or earned less than $10,710 with no qualifying child.
Current and prior year tax forms are available on IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). Taxpayers who need help may also call the IRS help line at 1-800-829-1040.
State-by-state estimates for individuals who failed to file a 2001 return with a refund due are highlighted on the IRS' Web site.