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Last Chance to Claim Your Tax Refund

Updated for Tax Year 2015


The law gives taxpayers who fail to file their income taxes three years to submit a return and claim a refund. The three-year countdown starts on the original due date.

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. 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.

Forgotten tax withholdings

The IRS sets minimum gross income levels below which taxpayers do not have to file a return. For example, in 2012, taxpayers under age 65 who were single and made less than $9,750, or heads of household who earned less than $12,650, had no obligation to file.

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. Citizens who did not have tax withheld 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.

Time matters with tax refunds

April 15, 2016, is the last day to file your 2012 tax return to claim a refund; if you had an extension, your deadline is October 15, 2016.

If you miss the deadline, any excess in the amount of tax you paid every paycheck or sent as quarterly estimated payments in 2012 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.

Under certain conditions the IRS will withhold your refund check. It can be used to pay any past-due student loans, child support and federal tax debt you owe. The IRS holds refund checks when the two subsequent annual returns are missing. That means you should file returns for 2013 and 2014 as soon as possible. For the 2013 tax year, the three-year grace period ends April 15, 2017.

Don't forget your credits

According to Cathy Tourbert of Pennsylvania-based Precision Tax & Business Service, tax payers who don't use a professional or online tax preparation service normally won't know what tax credits are available to them unless they read or follow tax-related news. Unclaimed 2012 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 Tax Credit even if they didn't have a tax bill. If your 2012 income fell below these limits, might be able to claim EITC by filing a 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040 return by April 15, 2016:

  • $13,980 ($19,190 if married filing jointly) and no qualifying children
  • $36,920 ($42,130 if married filing jointly) and one qualifying child
  • $41,952 ($47,162 if married filing jointly) and two qualifying children
  • $45,060 ($50,270 if married filing jointly) and three or more qualifying children

Those needing to claim refunds for the 2011 tax year have eight possible tax credits in addition to EITC they may be able to claim:

  • 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)

Obstacles to your tax 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.

The IRS can help if your document search fails. You can ask the agency for a transcript of these information returns by filing Form 4506T, "Request for Transcript of Tax Return," and checking off Box 8. Allow 10 business days for a response.
The IRS also accepts online requests (at irs.gov) and phone transcript requests (at 800-908-9946). The 1040 series of tax forms can be downloaded from the "Prior Year Returns" link on agency's "Forms and Publications" web page or ordered by calling (800) 829-3676. You have the option of e-filing or mailing a paper return. Regardless of the filing method you choose, be sure you sign, as the IRS does not issue refunds to late filers without their signature.
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.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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