This story is part of Taxes 2023, CNET's coverage of the best tax software, tax tips and everything else you need to file your return and track your refund.
Did you file a tax return in 2020? If you forgot, or thought you didn't earn enough income to bother, the IRS could be holding some money for you.
The IRS announced Wednesday that it has $1.5 billion of unclaimed tax refunds belonging to about 1.5 million Americans who did not file their tax returns in 2019. That's an average of about $1,000 apiece, with a median unclaimed refund amount of $893.
By law, the IRS keeps these unclaimed tax refunds for three years. The agency usually transfers the money to the US Treasury after the April tax day deadline. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the tax deadline in 2020 until July 15, you now have until July 17, 2023 to claim any tax refund from 2019.
The best online tax software like TurboTax and H&R Block can help you complete your tax return to claim a tax refund for 2019, but you can't file that return electronically. Prior year tax returns must be filed on paper. You'll need to print and mail your 2019 tax return for 2019 to a specific regional IRS office, depending on where you live.
Read on to learn about how to claim your 2019 tax refund, including what to do if you're missing old forms and where to mail your 2019 tax return.
For more, learn how to file your taxes for free and how to track your tax refund.
When is the IRS deadline to claim a tax refund from 2019?
The IRS is required to hold on to unclaimed income tax refunds for three years. If you don't file for the tax refund after three years, the money becomes property of the US Treasury, and you won't be able to get it back. Because the tax deadline in 2020 was extended, you'll need to file a 2019 tax return by July 17, 2023 in order to claim your money.
Because tax returns for prior years cannot be filed electronically, you'll need to ensure that your 2019 is addressed to the proper IRS regional office and postmarked by July 17.
How can I find out if the IRS has an unclaimed tax refund for me?
There's no easy way for taxpayers to discover whether or not they're missing tax refund money from 2019. The only way to learn if the IRS is holding an old refund for you is to file a return for that year.
The IRS Where's My Refund tool can't help -- it only reports the refund status of those who've already filed their taxes.
How can I claim my 2019 income tax refund from the IRS?
To claim a refund for 2019, you need to submit your 2019 tax return through the mail. Most tax software publishers keep their prior years' software available for three years. Tax software can help you complete IRS Form 1040 and all the other required forms and schedules, but it cannot e-file for you. You'll need to print, sign and properly address the printed tax return, which needs to be postmarked no later than July 17, 2023.
To file an old 2019 tax return, you'll need to mail it to a specific regional IRS center listed on the last page of this year's IRS Form 1040 instructions (PDF). The address you need to use depends on the state or US territory in which you live.
The IRS notes that the agency may continue to hold your 2019 tax refund if you have not filed tax returns for 2020 and 2021.
What documents do I need to file my 2019 income tax return?
You can find the tax forms for 2019 on the IRS' forms page. If you're missing a W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 from 2019, 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 from the transcript to file your tax return. To download an instant transcript, you'll need to create an online IRS account if you don't already have one.
Can my unclaimed refund be kept by the IRS to cover tax debt?
If you think you were due a refund from 2019 but you don't receive one after you file your old tax return, all or part of your tax refund may have been offset, meaning it was used to pay past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support or other federal debts such as student loans.
Tax refund offsets that cover past-due federal taxes are managed by the IRS, and you should receive a notice from the agency explaining the offset. All other refund offsets are handled by the Bureau of Fiscal Services' Treasury Offset Program, which should also send you a notice if your tax refund was used to pay debts.
If you don't believe you owe back federal taxes and receive an offset notice from the IRS, you can call the agency at 800-829-1040 for more information. For all other debt-related tax return offsets, you can call the Treasury Offset Program at 800-304-3107 to find out more details.