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News / Northwest

Washingtonians have $31 million in unclaimed tax refunds. How to file by May 17 deadline

By Daniel Schrager, The Bellingham Herald
Published: May 10, 2024, 7:43am

BELLINGHAM — Nearly a million people across the U.S. have unclaimed refunds from their 2020 taxes.

While taxpayers typically have three years to file overdue tax returns and still receive a refund if they miss the annual mid-April cut off, the IRS extended the deadline for 2020 tax returns to this May. In a news release, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said that this was done to give people who may have overlooked their taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic more time to file.

“People faced extremely unusual situations during the pandemic, which may have led some people to forget about a potential refund on their 2020 tax returns,” Werfel stated. “People may have just overlooked these, including students, part-time workers and others. Some people may not realize they may be owed a refund.”

But even with the extension, the IRS estimated in late March that just over $1 billion in refunds from 2020 remain unclaimed ahead of the May 17 deadline. Refunds that aren’t claimed after the deadline go to the U.S. Treasury.

In Washington, 26,200 people are owed a total of $31.1 million in refunds. That’s an average refund of nearly $1,200 for those who are eligible, with a median amount of $976. Here’s how you can file to claim a refund.

How to get a refund

In order to claim your 2020 tax refund, you have to file a tax return from that year. If you haven’t held on to all of the relevant information and paperwork over the past four years, there are still other ways to get the documents you need.

The IRS suggests requesting copies of W-2s, 1098s, 1099s, and 5498s from your bank or employer. If that’s not an option, you can get a wage and income transcript for free from the IRS website or by submitting Form 4506-T.

Once you have the proper documents, you can file online or by mail. While you can use a tax preparation service, Washington is one of 12 states in the IRS’s Direct File pilot program, allowing you to file your tax return online for free.