Do You Have an Unclaimed Tax Refund?

Audrey M. Jones
Dollar Bill

Each year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) places millions of dollars worth of unclaimed tax refunds into an account. There those funds remain until a taxpayer files a return to claim them. The federal government does not provide a general list of taxpayers entitled to one of these unclaimed refunds.

A Description of Unclaimed Federal Tax Refunds

An unclaimed federal tax refund is an amount of money owed by the federal government to a taxpayer, but which has not yet been paid to the taxpayer. The reason this money has not been paid is because the taxpayer did not file a return demonstrating their entitlement to it. The only way a taxpayer can receive a refund of any size is to file a return; their yearly tax return acts as their formal request for any funds they are owed.

Unclaimed refunds owed for previous years are claimable. The taxpayer must file a return to obtain them. Late tax returns, meaning those filed after the IRS deadline, are subject to penalties. This penalty will often be less than the amount of the refund, however, making it worthwhile to file.

Many times, refunds remain unclaimed because a taxpayer did not believe that she made enough money to file a return. Even though she may have made very little over the course of the year, she may be entitled to a refund because to any claims, deductions or overpayment. Refunds may also be unclaimed because they were undeliverable to the address on file.

Note that any unclaimed refunds are only available for a maximum of three years after they are owed. This means that you must claim any refund you are entitled to within three years of the due date of the return for that year.

The "Where's My Refund?" System

The IRS operates a system which allows taxpayers to track any refund they are owed. This system, called Where's My Refund? is available on the IRS website.

However, users must know the exact amount they are owed. The system requires users to provide their name, social security number and the exact dollar amount of the refund they have not yet received. Because of this, it might not be the most helpful if you do not know whether you are entitled to a refund.

How to Find Out if You Are Entitled to a Refund

Are you unsure whether you have left a refund owed to you unclaimed? Unfortunately, finding out whether you are entitled to a refund is more difficult than you think. Why? Because your tax information is private, and the IRS will not necessarily release any information about who is owed refunds and how much they are owed to the public.

To find out if you are owed a refund, you should contact your local IRS office or even the national agency office. After gathering your personal information, a representative will inform you whether there are unclaimed refunds in your name.

You might, however, have to file a return for the year in which you believe you are entitled to a refund to determine whether you are owed any funds. Review your records to determine if you did not file a return in the past three years. If so, file one. Unfortunately, after filing a return you are required to sit and wait until you receive a refund, if any.

Lists of Owed, Unclaimed Tax Refunds

The IRS does not publish a comprehensive list of any taxpayers who are owed refunds. While USA.gov, the official federal government website, offers a service to provide you with a list of any unclaimed tax refunds, the service only actually takes users to the "Where's My Refund?" page.

Beware any sites which claim to provide lists of owed refunds, whether state or federal. These sites often carry false information and may steal your personal information.

Do You Have an Unclaimed Tax Refund?