Finally, a happy thought when it comes to taxes: The IRS may be holding money that is yours, and they really, really do want to give it to you!
If you had a job and had income taxes withheld from your paycheck, but you didn’t file a return either because you didn’t have to because of your income level or because you thought you wouldn’t get the money back, you may actually be in for a surprise. It may not necessarily be a lot of money, but I believe you should even file your claim for a $1 refund merely on principle if it’s owed to you.
The IRS keeps millions of dollars every year that they are not legally entitled to keep, simply because taxpayers didn’t realize they could get the money back. In order to file a return for the express purpose of getting a refund, even if you weren’t legally obligated to file a tax return, you need to file the return and request the refund within 3 years of when the tax return was originally due, which is generally April 15th of each year for personal income tax returns. After this three year period, the government says, “Too bad, so sad” and gets to legally keep your money.
If you file a tax return late, but are due a refund, there are no penalties for late filing. They only whack you with late filing penalties if you OWE money, and then it’s a percentage of what you owe (Caution: It’s a BIG percentage if it’s been a while).
If you’re not sure if you would end up owing or getting a refund, here’s a quick tip: Most tax preparers will run the numbers through their computer for you for free, and only charge you if you actually FILE the return. Most franchises of the big tax prep retail chains (H&R Block, Liberty, and Jackson Hewitt) will do this, as will most independent tax preparers. It’s worth at least looking into.
In addition, the IRS receives millions of dollars of refund checks back in the mail every year. If you were expecting a refund check, and it didn’t come, then don’t forget to give the IRS a call (800-829-1040) and ask them where your refund is. There is also a simple and handy “Where’s My Refund?” feature on their web site, at irs.gov.
Lastly, be sure to take every tax break you’re entitled to. If you think your tax preparer either missed some deductions or skipped a tax credit that would pump up your refund (the Earned Income Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit are two of the big ones), then don’t hesitate to take your tax return to somebody else for a second opinion. Most tax preparers will do this either for free or for a very nominal charge, so if you think you should have gotten a bigger refund, have another tax preparer look over your return.