Texans left $1.5 billion in tax refunds on the table, IRS says

The IRS says 1.5 million people have left money on the table and will lose it if they don't act soon. They are owed 2018 tax refunds worth a median of $800 each.

The IRS says 145,000 Texans are owed a median $856 refund because they haven't filed their 2018 tax return yet. And they'll lose it if they don't file it in the next 18 days.

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"That’s the median refund. Half the refunds will be more, half will be less. But you don’t know until you prepare the return and file it," said Michael Devine, spokesperson for the IRS.

And this isn't new. The IRS says it happens every year.

"There’s a statute of limitations. That means you only have three years to file that 2018 return and claim the refund, or it's not your money anymore. It goes to the Department of the Treasury," Devine explained.

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But the stakes are even higher now.

"You might be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit for 2018. That was more than $6000.  So the refund of any taxes that you paid would be nice. But if you found out that your eligible for the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and other credits, you could be looking at a much larger refund," said Devine.

And if you don't file for 2020 or 2021, you could miss out on stimulus checks that you didn't receive, or the Child Tax Credit, which was increased for 2021 to up to $3,600 for a kid underage, and up to $3,000 for a child age 6 to 17.

If you don't recall whether you filed a 2018 return, you can request a transcript of your tax returns from the IRS, either online or by phone or mail.

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You must also file your 2019 and 2020 returns in order to collect a 2018 refund owed. And any refund will be applied first to back-owed federal or state taxes, child support, or federal student loans.  

"Maybe you owe in 2019, that 2018 refund would help pay that debt off. So it’s very important to get current on your taxes as soon as you can," said Devine.

Here are instructions from the IRS to file a 2018 tax return:

Tax year 2018 returns must be filed with the IRS center listed on the last page of the current Form 1040 instructions PDF. Current and prior year tax forms (such as the tax year 2018 Form 1040, 1040-A and 1040-EZ) and instructions are available on the IRS.gov Forms and Publications page or by calling toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). However, taxpayers can e-file tax year 2019 and later returns.

Taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for the years 2018, 2019 or 2020 should request copies from their employer, bank or other payer. Taxpayers who are unable to get missing forms from their employer or other payer can order a free wage and income transcript at IRS.gov using the Get Transcript Online tool. Alternatively, they can file Form 4506-T to request a wage and income transcript.

Taxpayers who qualify can receive free tax prep help from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or BakerRipley.