How to Check for Unclaimed Tax Refunds
Filing a complete tax return is the only way to make a valid refund claim. If the refund relates to a tax year when you don’t file a return, you have to file an original tax return within two years of paying the tax. The IRS starts the two-year period on the April 15 that immediately follows the relevant tax year.
For example, if your employer withheld federal income tax from your wages during calendar year 2012, the IRS considers the tax paid on April 15, 2013 and would have allowed you to file a valid refund claim until April 15, 2015. However, the IRS won’t issue a full refund if it exceeds the total amount of tax you paid in the two years immediately preceding the date you claim the refund.
The three-year period applies to taxpayers who file the original tax return on time but later discover an error that should have given them a lower tax liability for that year. To initiate a refund claim, you have to file an amended tax return. The three-year period begins on April 15 in the year immediately following the close of the relevant tax year, not counting any extension of time to file the IRS grants you.
To illustrate, if for the 2012 tax year you filed an automatic six-month extension and filed the original return on Oct. 15, 2013, you would have had to file the amended return by April 15, 2016 to obtain a refund.
The IRS can suspend the limitation period during times when a physical or mental impairment renders you incapable of managing your personal financial affairs. To qualify, the impairment has to last or be expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months or potentially result in death. You have to provide the IRS with a written statement from your physician attesting to the seriousness of the impairment. The IRS will extend the standard limitation period by the amount of time you suffer from the impairment.
The standard time limitation on claiming a tax refund does not apply if the IRS extends the assessment period for the relevant tax year. Generally, the IRS has three years from the time you actually file the tax return to examine it and assess additional taxes.
In some cases, the IRS may ask the taxpayer to sign an agreement extending this period. When that happens, you receive an additional six months in which you may file a valid refund claim for the relevant tax year. The six-month extension begins on the date the extended assessment period expires regardless of whether you agree to a one-year or 20-year extension.