1.5 Million Taxpayers Have Unclaimed Tax Refunds: How to Get That IRS Money


If you didn’t file a tax return in 2018, you may want to file it now.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Tax Day 2022 — April 18 — is the deadline to file your 2021 taxes, but it’s also your last chance to file for an old, unclaimed tax refund from 2018. The IRS announced that it has an estimated $1.5 billion worth of unclaimed tax refunds from more than 1.5 million Americans who did not file their tax returns that year. The median unclaimed tax refund from 2018 is $813.

After this year’s tax deadline, the IRS will transfer all of the remaining unclaimed refund money from 2018 to the Department of Treasury. By law, the IRS keeps unclaimed tax refunds for three years, after which they are no longer available to taxpayers. 

Popular tax software like TurboTax and H&R Block will help you file tax returns for 2018, but you can’t file electronically. You’ll need to print and mail your tax return to a specific regional IRS office, depending on where you live.

The IRS entered the 2022 tax season with a huge backlog of unprocessed tax returns from prior years, so if you want to see that money from 2018 anytime soon, you’d best file that old return as quickly as you can. Read on to learn about how to claim your 2018 tax refund, including what to do if you’re missing old forms and where to mail your 2018 tax return.

For more, learn how to file your taxes for free, how to track your tax refund, how to claim the rest of your 2021 child tax credit and how to maximize this year’s biggest tax deductions and tax credits.

When is the IRS deadline to claim a 2018 tax refund?

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. For 2018 income tax refunds, you’ll need to file a return for that year by Tax Day — April 18 this year.

Because tax returns for prior years cannot be filed electronically, you’ll need to ensure that your 2018 is addressed to the proper IRS regional office and postmarked by April 18. Taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19 this year due to the local observance of Patriots’ Day on April 18.

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 2018. 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.


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How do I claim my 2018 income tax refund from the IRS?

To claim a refund for 2018, you need to submit your 2018 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 April 18, 2022.

To file an old 2018 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 2018 tax refund if you have not filed tax returns for 2019 and 2020.

What if I’m missing documents I need to file my 2018 income tax return?

You can find the tax forms for 2018 on the IRS’ forms page. If you’re missing a W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 from 2018, 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.

tax-day-april-18-2022

You need to file your 2018 tax return by April 18, 2022, or any possible refund will be gone forever.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Can an unclaimed tax refund be used to cover debt?

If you think you were due a refund from 2018 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.