The deadline to claim refunds from 2019 is approaching

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If you haven’t filed your taxes over the past few years, the window to claim old refunds is closing, according to the IRS.

There are nearly 1.5 million people with unclaimed refunds from tax year 2019, worth almost $1.5 billion, with a median payment of $893, the agency said on Wednesday. The last chance to file and collect 2019 refunds is July 17.

Typically, there’s a three-year deadline to claim refunds for unfiled returns before the money becomes the property of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In most years, that deadline coincides with the federal tax filing deadline. But there’s extra time for 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“The 2019 tax returns came due during the pandemic, and many people may have overlooked or forgotten about these refunds,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. “We want taxpayers to claim these refunds, but time is running out.”

With the 2019 tax deadline extended until July, Werfel said many Americans, particularly lower earners such as students and part-time workers, may have accidentally skipped the filing.

“People get scared and think it’s going to be harder than it really is,” said certified financial planner John Chichester Jr., founder and CEO of Chichester Financial Group in Phoenix. “And they don’t realize that they’re leaving money on the table.”

People get scared and think it’s going to be harder than it really is, and they don’t realize that they’re leaving money on the table.

John Chichester Jr.

Founder and CEO of Chichester Financial Group

For example, low- to moderate-income workers may qualify for the so-called earned income tax credit, which provides a tax break even without a balance due.

But for workers with a relatively simple tax situation, such as W-2 income and without a business, “it’s quite easy to file your taxes,” said Chichester, who is also a certified public accountant.

Where to begin with unfiled 2019 returns

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an unfiled return, experts say to begin by gathering documents.

“Taxpayers can request copies of tax documents from employers and other sources like loan service providers,” said Kathy Pickering, chief tax officer for H&R Block. “Sometimes documents were provided electronically and are still available on demand.” 

Another way to access older tax documents is through your IRS online account, she said.

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You can login to download IRS transcripts, such as the wage and income transcript, which includes W-2s and 1099s. You can access IRS transcripts for the current season and three prior years. “For many taxpayers, this is by far the quickest and easiest option,” the IRS said.

And if you have multiple years of unfiled returns, Chichester’s advice is to just get started with 2019. “Sometimes it can be daunting if you have multiple years,” but completing 2019 may make it easier to move on to the next one, he said.

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