What if the government owed you a big chunk of money and all you had to do was claim it?
If you’re among the estimated 1.5 million taxpayers who never filed a tax return in 2018, you could be in that very situation—and you could lose your money forever if you don’t act quickly.
According to federal law, taxpayers who are owed a refund during any given year must claim it within three years. For 2018, that’s this year, which means the deadline to claim your three-year-old refund is the same deadline as for filing your taxes this year: Monday, April 18, for most people. (Residents of Maine and Massachusetts get an extra day.) Unless you want the U.S. Treasury to permanently end up with your refund—and presumably spend it on whatever it wants—you have to file and postmark a 2018 return by that date.
Believe it or not, unclaimed tax refunds are not at all uncommon. According to a recent update by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the federal government is currently sitting on about $1.5 billion worth of unclaimed refunds from 2018. The median size of those refunds varies by state, anywhere from $720 for taxpayers in South Carolina to north of $900 for taxpayers in Alaska and Wyoming. Nationally, the IRS estimates that the median unclaimed refund is about $813.
If you want to claim your 2018 refund, keep in mind that you should file a return for 2019 and 2020, too. Otherwise, the IRS might hold onto your check until you do. Also, if you owe money for a variety of reasons—student loans, child support, unpaid federal or state taxes—the IRS could use your would-be refund to pay off those debts.
That said, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why people lapse on filing their taxes, and if you fall into that category of person who got too busy or just plain forgot, there’s no good reason why you can’t dig up your old W-2s and claim your money now. Tax forms and instructions for 2018 are readily available online. There’s still time to file, but time is running out!