As long as you follow the right procedures, the Internal Revenue Service will pay you any unpaid tax refunds from the last three years. To claim a refund that you never received, contact the IRS by phone or online and update your address. If you are owed a refund and never filed a return, get the tax forms online or by mail and file the return to claim the refund.
Update Your Contact Information
You might also be missing a potential refund if you didn't file your taxes in certain years. The IRS doesn't require taxpayers to file a tax return if income is under a certain dollar amount. However, if you worked and had taxes withheld from your paycheck, you may have paid more in taxes than you needed to and are due a refund. Even if you didn't have taxes withheld during the year, refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit can still provide you with a tax refund.
Filing Late Tax Returns
The easiest way to see if the IRS has a tax refund waiting for you is to complete tax returns for the years you skipped. You can get prior year tax return forms online at IRS.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM. For example, if you fill out Form 1040 and find a positive amount on line 75, that means you were owed a refund. You can then submit the tax return to the IRS by mail or through an e-file tax software program. The IRS doesn't change a penalty for filing a late tax return if you have a refund owed to you.
Limitations on Collecting Refunds
You only have three years from the original due date of the tax return to collect a tax refund. After that, your tax refund becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. For example, if you never filed a tax return for the 2012 tax return -- originally due on April 15, 2013 -- and want to claim the refund for that year, you have until April 15, 2016 to file the tax return. The same rules apply for those who need to update an address.
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Based in San Diego, Calif., Madison Garcia is a writer specializing in business topics. Garcia received her Master of Science in accountancy from San Diego State University.