IRS Says There Are $1.5 Billion in Unclaimed Tax Refunds — Find Out If You’re Owed Money

Income tax refund.
DNY59 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you never filed a 2019 tax return because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be owed a refund by the IRS. To claim it, you’ll need to file a return — and the clock is ticking.

In an April 12 announcement, the IRS said nearly $1.5 billion in refunds for tax year 2019 are still unclaimed, involving close to 1.5 million taxpayers. The average median refund is $893. The IRS has done a special state-by-state calculation to show how many people are potentially eligible for the refunds.

Taxpayers have until July 17, 2023, to submit their 2019 tax returns and claim the money.

“The 2019 tax returns came due during the pandemic, and many people may have overlooked or forgotten about these refunds,” IRS commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. “We want taxpayers to claim these refunds, but time is running out… We recommend taxpayers start soon to make sure they don’t miss out.”

Taxpayers typically have three years to file and claim their tax refunds. If they don’t file within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. Under normal circumstances, that three-year window would have closed on April 18, 2023, which is this year’s tax deadline.

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But for 2019 tax returns, taxpayers were allowed more time than usual to file to claim their refunds because of the pandemic. That’s why the three-year window was extended to July 17. The IRS issued Notice 2023-21 on Feb. 27, 2023, which provided legal guidance on claims made by the postponed deadline.

Now the agency wants to get the word out to taxpayers who usually miss out on refunds.

“We frequently see students, part-time workers and others with little income overlook filing a tax return and never realize they may be owed a refund,” Werfel said. “We encourage people to review their records and start gathering records now, so they don’t run the risk of missing the July deadline.”

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If you have still not claimed your 2019 refund, you might be missing out on more than just the refund itself. As the IRS noted, many low- and moderate-income workers might be eligible for the earned income tax credit (EITC). For tax year 2019, the credit was worth as much as $6,557.

“People get scared and think it’s going to be harder than it really is [and] they don’t realize that they’re leaving money on the table,” certified financial planner John Chichester Jr., founder and CEO of Chichester Financial Group in Phoenix, told CNBC.

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Those who are potentially eligible for the EITC in 2019 had incomes below the following thresholds:

  • $50,162 ($55,952 if married filing jointly) for those with three or more qualifying children.
  • $46,703 ($52,493 if married filing jointly) for people with two qualifying children.
  • $41,094 ($46,884 if married filing jointly) for those with one qualifying child.
  • $15,570 ($21,370 if married filing jointly) for people without qualifying children.

The IRS also reminded taxpayers seeking a 2019 tax refund that their payments might be held if they have not yet filed tax returns for 2020 and 2021. In addition, the refund will be applied to any amounts still owed to the IRS or a state tax agency and might also be used to offset unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans.

Current and prior year tax forms (such as the tax year 2019 Forms 1040 and 1040-SR) and instructions are available on the Forms, Instructions & Publications page or by calling toll-free 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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