Don’t Lose Your Refund by Not Filing

What to do if you haven’t filed your tax return

Many people may lose out on their tax refund simply because they did not file a federal income tax return. By law, they only have a three-year window from the original due date, normally the April deadline, to claim their refunds.

Some people may choose not to file a tax return because they didn't earn enough money to be required to file. Generally, they won't receive a penalty if they are owed a refund. But, they may miss out on receiving a refund.

Here are a few situations where someone may not be required to file a tax return, but they may still be eligible for a refund:

  • Have federal income tax withheld

    Excess tax withholdings are only returned in the form of a refund when you file a tax return. This can affect students and part-time workers where the tax withheld from your wages is at a rate that is too high.
  • Make estimated tax payments

    Seniors and retirees who make estimated tax payments or have money withheld from their retirement fund and Social Security disbursements may also be eligible for a refund.
  • Qualify to claim and receive refundable tax credits

    While most tax credits can be used to reduce the tax you owe, there are a few credits that allow you to receive money beyond what you owe. The most common examples of these refundable credits are the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Taxpayers often fail to take advantage of these refundable credits.

Taxpayers can get current and prior year tax forms and instructions on the Forms and Publications page.

Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

Taxpayers who are unable to get missing forms from their employer or other payer can access their tax records including transcripts of past tax returns, tax account information, wage and income statements, and verification of non-filing letters by:

Some taxpayers may be able to get free tax help from volunteers with preparing and filing their tax returns, including prior-year returns.

Again, in cases where a federal income tax return was not filed, the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity to claim a tax refund. If they do not file a tax return within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.

The law requires taxpayers to properly address, mail and ensure the tax return is postmarked by the April deadline.

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