taxes

IRS has nearly $1 billion in unclaimed refunds

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Stacks of $100 bills | iStock.com/Ieva

The IRS has $950 million in unclaimed refunds it wants to give to the rightful owners.

The cash is waiting for taxpayers who didn't file a 2012 tax return.

If you're one of the approximately 1 million folks who didn't send in a Form 1040 back then, all you have to do is file that old tax paperwork by this year's April 18 deadline. The deadline is April 19 for taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts because of the Patriot's Day holiday in those 2 states.

Whatever due date applies, don't miss this last-chance deadline for a tax refund. If you do, then the U.S. Treasury gets to keep your money. Forever.

Median refund of $718

The IRS estimates that the median unclaimed refund check from 2012 is $718. That means half of the checks are less than that, but half are more.

Taxpayers eligible for the unpaid refunds live in every state and the District of Columbia.

The state with the most unclaimed refunds is Texas. The 96,400 Lone Star State residents who didn't file in 2012 are due a total of almost $94 million.

The 5 states with the most unclaimed refund money

StateUnclaimed refundsMedian refund amount
Texas96,400$771
California94,900$656
Florida64,700$721
New York57,600$796
Illinois40,300$782
Pennsylvania40,200$796

Vermont taxpayers, on the other hand, appear to be quite tax-conscious. Only 2,000 residents in that New England state didn't file in 2012.

And Wyoming's 2,700 nonfilers have the chance to hit the biggest individual 2012 tax-refund jackpot. The median check in that western state is $851.

An annual problem

Tax law says a taxpayer has 3 years to file a return and get the associated refund. Since the 2012 tax year returns were due by the April 2013 deadline, that 3-year window allows these forms to be filed by the April 2016 filing due date.

The time-shift tax filing is not unusual. Unclaimed tax refund money piles up every year.

Some people may not have made enough money in 2012 to require them to file a tax return. Others simply didn't get around to filing and because there's no penalty for not sending in a return when no tax is owed, they didn't get notices from the IRS.

Whatever the reason, individuals who don't file risk losing tax money that is theirs and possibly even more.

And remember that if you didn't make much money in 2012, you might be eligible to claim the earned income tax credit, or EITC, for that tax year when you finally send in the return. For 2012, the credit is worth as much as $5,891.

The EITC is available to individuals and families whose incomes are below certain thresholds.

Earned income limits by filing status for tax year 2012

Number of qualifying children claimedSingle or head of householdMarried, filing jointly
None$13,980$19,190
1$36,920$42,130
2$41,952$47,162
3 or more$45,060$50,270

Don't forget 2013, 2014

But just getting up to date with your 2012 return might not be enough.

The IRS says 2012 refund checks might be held if the taxpayers who finally file that year's return also failed to file tax returns for 2013 and 2014.

Check your records. If you missed those subsequent years, too, get those forms to the IRS as soon as possible. You can download prior year tax returns at the IRS website.

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