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Published: Mar 28, 2022 5 min read
Collage of tall stacks of bundled one hundred dollar bills and 1040 2021 Tax forms
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If you didn’t file your 2018 taxes, the IRS may owe you hundreds of dollars — but the deadline to claim that money is fast approaching.

About 1.5 million taxpayers haven’t submitted their 2018 taxes yet, and the IRS says it’s sitting on a mound of nearly $1.5 billion in unclaimed refund money. The median tax refund comes out to more than $800.

But the IRS isn’t going to dole out that money automatically. If the agency owes you an old refund, you’ll need to file back taxes to claim it — and soon.

“People need to act quickly,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement. “By law, there's only a three-year window to claim these refunds, which closes with this year's April tax deadline.”

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Because of a holiday observed in Washington, D.C., taxes are due on April 18 this year for most folks. Back taxes for 2018 must be postmarked by your tax due date. Miss that deadline, and your unclaimed refund disappears. Or, rather, it “becomes property of the U.S. Treasury,” according to the IRS.

In addition to those overall figures, IRS shared a state-by-state breakdown of the number of residents who haven’t filed 2018 taxes with the tax refund total for each state and the median refund by state. As expected, the most populous states are the ones with the largest numbers of folks who haven’t filed. But residents of many smaller states may be missing out on the biggest individual refunds.

The states with the largest median tax refunds waiting to be claimed include:

  • Alaska: $969
  • New Hampshire: $920
  • Wyoming: $912
  • Massachusetts: $908
  • New York: $896

The lowest median refund was Idaho’s $686.

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How to claim your 2018 tax refund

To claim your refund, you’ll need to file back taxes for 2018, and it’s likely that you’ll need to physically mail in your return because the IRS’s e-file option only applies to 2019 returns and onward. Likewise, e-filing through various tax software companies may not be available for 2018 taxes.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Gather your income information. First, you’ll need to take stock of what documents you have and what’s missing for 2018. The exact documents will vary depending on what type of income you received that year. They typically include W-2s for employee wages; 1099-MISCs or 1099-NECs if you did gig or contract work; and 1099-INTs and 1099-DIVs for income from interest or dividends.
  2. Request your tax transcript for missing income information. This is an optional step, but if life circumstances kept you from filing your 2018 return, it’s also possible that you misplaced or lost tax information for that year. Don’t fret. The IRS compiles this information on your tax transcript. For example, you can create or log in to your IRS account online and request a wage and income transcript that will contain the W-2 or 1099 information you need to fill out your return.
  3. Use the right forms to complete your return. While filing your back taxes, ensure you’re filling out the correct year’s form. You may need 2018’s 1040, 1040-A or 1040-EZ. These are searchable in the IRS’s form archive.
  4. Mail your return to the proper IRS location. Once you’ve completed your 2018 tax return, may need to physically mail it to the IRS. The agency has several locations; the IRS address for your return varies based on where you live. Find the appropriate mailing address on the final page of this year’s filing instructions.

You can get additional help with your back taxes by calling the IRS’s toll-free number, 800-TAX-FORM — though you may have trouble getting through to a human for tax help.

As the IRS notes, even if you are owed a 2018 tax refund, that might not equate to a fat check in the mail. The agency says that the refund may go toward outstanding tax bills if you owe money for other years. The refund could also be used to offset unpaid child support payments or go toward past-due debt from the federal government like student loans.

It’s also possible that you owe the IRS money from 2018, in which case you can expect to pay penalties on top of the amount that’s past due.

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