IRS owes millions in unclaimed tax refunds. Here’s your last chance to claim your money


Does the IRS have an income tax refund you need to claim by May 17? You have one day to check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’ve circled May 17 on your calendar as Tax Day, know that Monday is also the deadline to file for an unclaimed 2017 income tax refund with the IRS. After May 17, the IRS turns any unclaimed refund money for 2017 over to the Department of the Treasury. The IRS estimates 1.3 million taxpayers have $1.3 billion worth of unclaimed 2017 tax refunds. If you’ve not filed a federal income tax return for 2017, file now to get a refund the IRS may owe you.

With Tax Day moved to May 17 this year, the IRS is still hip-deep in work, processing tax returns, sending weekly batches of stimulus checks and “plus-up” payments and preparing to send as soon as July the first of the expanded child tax credit payments.

We’ll show you how to see if the IRS has an income tax refund you need to claim and then how to file for it. For more, here’s how to get back $16,000 in child care expenses, how the IRS is handling the tax break for those who paid taxes on unemployment benefits in 2020, how to track your tax refund and what you want to know about child tax credit payments. This story is frequently updated.

What is the IRS deadline to claim an older tax refund?

The IRS is required to hold on to unclaimed income tax refunds for three years. By law, if you do not file for a refund after three years, the money becomes the property of the US Treasury, and you will not be able to get it. For a 2017 income tax refund, you need to claim by Tax Day — that’s May 17 — before it’s gone.

How can I see if the IRS has an unclaimed tax refund for me?

The only way to know if the IRS is holding your refund is to file a return for the year, the IRS said. The agency regularly estimates the dollar amount of unreported tax returns but can’t determine if an individual taxpayer is due a refund until they file a tax return. The Where’s My Refund tool can’t help either. It reports the refund status of those who have already filed their taxes.

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How do I claim my income tax refund from the IRS?

To claim a refund for 2017, you need to submit your 2017 tax form, either online or through the mail. If you’re mailing it, the tax return needs to be postmarked by May 17. Note that you may need to file a 2018 and 2019 tax return too for the IRS to release your 2017 refund.

What if I’m missing documents I need to file my 2017 income tax return?

You can find a prior year’s tax forms on the IRS’ forms page. If you’re missing a W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 from 2017, the IRS recommends you request a copy from your employer or bank. You can also order a free wage and income transcript from the IRS and then use the information on the transcript to file your tax return.


The IRS could have a tax refund you need to claim by May 17.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Can an unclaimed tax refund be used to cover debt?

If you think you were due a refund from 2017 but you don’t receive one after you file, all or part of your refund may have been offset, or used to pay off past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support or other federal debts such as student loans.

For more information about your 2020 taxes, here’s how to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and how to track your tax fund this year.

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