What would you do if you knew someone else had your money? Claim it, of course. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is urging taxpayers to do exactly that: More than $1 billion in outstanding tax refunds remain unclaimed from 2013. That represents an estimated one million taxpayers who might have qualified for a refund but who did not file a federal income tax return.
How much is a billion dollars? I know we throw around these “illions” anymore (millions, billions, trillions) like they’re nothing but it’s a lot of money. How much? If the IRS gave away a dollar an hour, it would take more than 114,155 years to get rid of $1 billion.
If you are due a tax refund, you must file a federal income tax return to get your money. You typically have a three-year window following the return due date to claim your tax refund. To claim your refund for the 2013 tax year, your return must be postmarked on or before April 18, 2017.
Tax returns have changed a bit so if you need a copy of the form 1040 from 2013, click here (downloads as a pdf), visit the IRS website, or call toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) to order an old form.
Remember that you’ll need your tax info from your forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 from 2012 in order to file the 2013 return. If you don’t have those old forms, you can request copies from your employer or bank; if that doesn’t work, you can try ordering them from IRS.gov using the “Get Transcript Online” tool. You can also file a form 4506-T (downloads as a pdf) to request a transcript of your 2013 income: be sure to request the Wage and Income Transcript.
But do it now: the clock is ticking. If you don’t file for a refund within the proper time frame, you lose your right to claim it at all. It becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.
“We’re trying to connect a million people with their share of 1 billion dollars in unclaimed refunds for the 2013 tax year,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “People across the nation haven’t filed tax returns to claim these refunds, and their window of opportunity is closing soon. Students and many others may not realize they’re due a tax refund. Remember, there’s no penalty for filing a late return if you’re due a refund.”
Of course, if you owe the feds money for student loans or back taxes, for example, or if your refund is otherwise earmarked for seizure, such as for child support obligations, any tax refund that you are due will be offset by the amounts owed (for more on offsets, click here). Additionally, if you are not compliant or if you have not filed tax returns for 2014 and 2015, the IRS may hold your tax refund.
Who is owed the most money? The top ten states by the outstanding number of refunds are:
You’ll note that the order coincides, roughly, with state population rank, meaning that the most populous states are owed the most refunds. (If you’re wondering which state is the elusive #8, it’s Georgia.)
Taxpayers living in Alaska and Wyoming are owed the most money, on average, with an estimated median refund of $917 and $911, respectively. Taxpayers living in Idaho and Arizona are owed the least money, on average, with an estimated median refund of $619 and $650, respectively. The IRS estimates the midpoint for potential refunds for 2013 to be $763: that means that half of the outstanding refunds are more than $763 and half are less than $763.
To see where your state ranks by the number of refunds and by estimated median refunds, click on over to the IRS website for the full chart.
Why might you be owed a refund? Maybe you had too much withholding from your wages or made too much in quarterly payments. You might have also been eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other credits. Even though you were due a refund, you might not have filed because you had too little income to require filing a tax return and you thought it wouldn’t make a difference. But that’s not always the case. Remember, you can’t receive the benefit of refundable credits – or other tax breaks which might result in a refund – unless you file.
If you’re looking for more recent refund info – including an estimate of tax refund due dates – check out this prior article.

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Kelly Phillips Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer, and podcaster.

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