The IRS may owe those who didn’t file their 2019 taxes hundreds of dollars — but the deadline to claim that money is fast approaching.
Some 1.5 million taxpayers have yet to submit their 2019 taxes, which were due in July 2020, and the IRS is holding nearly $1.5 billion worth of unclaimed refund money with an expiration date of July 17.
"Many people may have overlooked filing a 2019 tax return due to the pandemic," said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel in a statement. "We don't want people to miss their window to receive their refund."
How much money the IRS may owe you
The median unclaimed tax refund amounts to almost $900 per person (excluding tax credits). However, the IRS won’t be sending this money out automatically. If you are owed an old refund, you will need to file back taxes to claim it before the deadline.
Those back taxes for 2019 must be postmarked by July 17. Missing this deadline means that your refund will disappear; after three years of a tax refund going unclaimed, it officially "becomes property of the U.S. Treasury," according to the IRS.
Typically, the deadline to claim old tax refunds is in April, but the tax filing deadline for 2019 taxes was pushed into July 2020 because of the pandemic. Hence the July 17 due date.
But some taxpayers could lose out on more than just the $900 or so. Many low- and middle-income folks could also be eligible for the earned income tax credit for 2019. That year, the EITC was worth as much as $6,557 depending on a household’s income and dependents. It must be claimed by the same deadline.
(This tax credit is refundable and is usually included in a tax refund, but in calculating the typical unclaimed refund amount, the IRS excluded tax credits. That means that by missing the deadline, some people could be leaving upwards of $7,400 on the table.)
How to claim your 2019 tax refund
To claim your tax refund, you will need to manually file back taxes for 2019. The IRS does not allow taxpayers to electronically file their back taxes through IRS Free File or with self-preparation tax software.
That means you must file your 2019 taxes on paper. Here’s what you need to do:
- Gather your income information. Review your documents to determine what you have and what is missing for 2019. The specific documents needed will depend on the type of income received that year, such as W-2s for employee wages, 1099-MISCs or 1099-NECs for gig or contract work, and 1099-INTs and 1099-DIVs for interest or dividend income.
- Request your tax transcript for missing income information. If you can’t find all your 2019 tax information, you can obtain your tax transcript for free from the IRS. Simply create or log in to your IRS account online and request a wage and income transcript, which will include the W-2 or 1099 information you need to complete your return.
- Use the correct forms for your return. When filing your back taxes, make sure that you are using the correct year's form. You may need 2019's 1040, 1040-SR or 1040-NR forms. These are searchable in the IRS’s form archive.
- Mail your return to the proper IRS location. After completing your 2019 tax return, you will need to sign and mail it to the appropriate IRS location. The mailing address for your return depends on where you live.
If you need further assistance with your back taxes, you can call the IRS's toll-free number, 800-TAX-FORM.
Keep in mind that even if you are owed a 2019 tax refund, it might not result in a nice check in the mail. The IRS says that the refund may first be put toward outstanding tax bills from other years, unpaid child support payments or past-due debts owed to the federal government, such as student loans.
And if you owe the IRS money from 2019, you might need to pay penalties on top of the past-due amount.