The law gives taxpayers who fail to file their income taxes three years to submit a return and claim a refund. Generally, the three-year countdown starts on the due date of the return, including extensions.
- How long do you have to claim your tax refund?
- Is the timeline for claiming a tax refund the same for state and federal taxes?
- What do you need to claim your refund?
- Are there tax credits you may have missed out on?
- What if I didn't file a tax return?
- How long does it take to get a tax refund once you've claimed it?
- What's the best way to receive your tax refund once you've claimed it?
- Can the IRS withhold your refund check?
- What happens if you miss the deadline to claim your refund?
How long do you have to claim your tax refund?
Over a million Americans fail to file a tax return every year. By not filing, many of these people risk losing any refund they're owed, which averages more than $600, according to Internal Revenue Service estimates.
The law gives procrastinators three years to submit a return and claim a refund. The three-year countdown starts on the original due date of the return or the extension due date, if an extension was filed. Late filers who owe no taxes don't pay any penalty and might even be eligible to get credits beyond the money withheld from their wages.
Is the timeline for claiming a tax refund the same for state and federal taxes?
This article outlines the timeline for claiming a refund from the IRS. If you have an unclaimed state tax refund, you’ll want to contact your state government’s tax department for the time limits for claiming your state refund.
What do you need to claim your refund?
One of the hills you have to climb to claim your refund is gathering the necessary documents. If you kept your financial records, you have an easy ascent. If not, then you must build time into your filing schedule to obtain a copy of your W-2 from your employer and any 1099 forms you're missing from your bank and other payers.
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Are there tax credits you may have missed out on?
Tax payers who don't use a professional or online tax preparation service may not know what tax credits are available to them unless they read or follow tax-related news. Unclaimed 2020 tax credits represent part of the unclaimed $1 billion in the IRS's coffers. Those with low or moderate incomes may be eligible for the Earned Income Credit even if they didn't have a tax bill.
If your 2020 income fell below these limits, you might be able to claim EIC by filing by April 15, 2024:
- $15,820 ($21,710 if married filing jointly) and no qualifying children
- $41,756 ($47,646 if married filing jointly) and one qualifying child
- $47,440 ($53,330 if married filing jointly) and two qualifying children
- $50,594 ($56,844 if married filing jointly) and three or more qualifying children
Those needing to claim refunds for the 2020 tax year have other possible tax credits in addition to EITC they may be able to claim including:
- Additional Child Tax Credit
- American Opportunity Credit
- Adoption Credit
- Refundable Credit for Prior Year Minimum Tax
- Health Coverage Tax Credit (Form 1040 required)
- Credit for Federal Tax on Fuels (Form 1040 required)
What if I didn't file a tax return?
The IRS sets minimum gross income levels below which taxpayers do not have to file a return. For example, for tax year 2023, generally taxpayers under age 65 who are single and made less than $13,850, or heads of household who earned less than $20,800, have no obligation to file their 2023 taxes unless special circumstances exist.
These non-filers may have overlooked the fact that their employer withheld income tax throughout the year, which is money the IRS owes them. Additionally, their low income may qualify them for tax credits only available by filing a tax return. Non-filers also forgo the chance to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, by not filing.
So, just because you may not be required to file a tax return, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. You could be missing the opportunity to get a tax refund.
How long does it take to get a tax refund once you've claimed it?
Once a tax refund is processed, it typically takes about 21 days to issue the refund. The timeline to receive your return may vary depending on whether the IRS is backed up or if they need further documentation from you. There are also a variety of other reasons why your refund might be delayed.
When claiming your refund, you may want to double-check that the address they have for you is correct–especially if you’ve moved in recent years–for any time-sensitive correspondence they might send or if they’re mailing your tax refund.
Additionally, it’s worthwhile to confirm your bank account number if you’re receiving a direct deposit.
What's the best way to receive your tax refund once you've claimed it?
When you claim your refund, you may want to elect to receive it via direct deposit as this is usually the most secure and quickest way to get your money from the IRS.
You can use the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool or call the IRS at 800-829-1954 to check the status of a refund if you previously filed a return as far back as the 2021 tax year.
To use the tool, you’ll need to know the tax year of the return, your Social Security number, filing status, and the refund amount. If you don’t know your refund amount, it may be best to speak with an agent over the phone.
Can the IRS withhold your refund check?
Under certain conditions the IRS will withhold your refund check. It can be used to pay:
- past-due student loans,
- child support and
- federal tax debt you owe.
The IRS can also hold refund checks when the two subsequent annual returns are missing. That means you should file returns for 2021 and 2022 as soon as possible. For the 2021 tax year, with a filing deadline in April of 2022, the three-year grace period ends April 18, 2025.
What happens if you miss the deadline to claim your refund?
April 15, 2024 is the last day to file your original 2020 tax return to claim a refund.
If you miss the deadline, any excess in the amount of tax you paid every paycheck or sent as quarterly estimated payments in 2020 goes to the U.S. Treasury instead of to you. You also lose the opportunity to apply any refund dollars to another tax year in which you owe income tax.
If you’d like to file a tax return for a previous year, TurboTax can help. Just check out our Past Year’s Products page and download the software for the tax year you need.