5. Check with the IRS
Am I really suggesting that you check with the IRS to see if they have any money for you? Yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting—and, yes, I mean it. Of all my recommendations, this is the one most likely to actually put money in your pocket. When we think of the IRS, most of us worry that we owe them money. But not everyone does. In fact, many of us are owed money, maybe you! The place to go to find out is the IRS website at www.irs.gov. I absolutely LOVE this website. It is truly a treasure trove of free information that can help you get refunds you never collected, get tax credits you never realized you were eligible for-in short, get what you are owed.
You wouldn't believe how much money people who don't file their taxes are owed in refunds. You read that correctly. I'm talking about the government owing money to people who never bothered to file a tax return. It turns out that in an average year, non-filers fail to claim more than $1 billion in refunds! That's right—more than one billion dollars in uncollected refunds is just sitting at the IRS not going anywhere because the taxpayers who are entitled to the money didn't file returns.
Why would someone not file a return? There are all kinds of reasons, but usually it's because they couldn't be bothered or because they think their income is so low that they don't owe taxes (not realizing that because of withholding they may be entitled to a refund). Whatever the reason, the IRS estimates that for the 2006 tax year, there were roughly 1.4 million people who fell into this category-and who, as a result, are owed more than $1.3 billion. That's more than $900 per person!
Now here's the big catch. The IRS has a rule that you have to claim your refund within three years from the time your return was due or they get to keep the money. By the time this book goes on sale, it will likely be too late for anyone to claim a refund for 2006. But if you have a refund coming to you for 2007 or later, you still have a chance to get your money.
But Wait—There's More at the IRS
It's not just non-filers who don't get their refunds. A lot of refunds go undelivered each year to people who did file. How many? In 2008 (the most recent year for which figures are available), nearly 102,000 taxpayers who filed tax returns and were supposed to receive a total of $123.5 million in refunds never got their checks.
What do you do if you're one of those taxpayers? It's simple. You go online to the IRS website and you click on the link labeled "Where's My Refund?" You then input some basic information about yourself (Social Security number, filing status, and the amount of refund you're due) and the site will tell you the status of your refund. If you don't have access to the Internet, you can phone the IRS toll-free at (800) 829-1040 and ask them if they're holding a tax refund for you.
Since 2004, taxpayers have used the "Where's My Refund?" tool more than 24 million times. If you think there's even a remote chance that you never got a refund you were supposed to get, you should join this crowd. How come all those people never got their checks? Usually, it's because they moved and the IRS didn't have their new address. So how many times have you moved in the last few years? Are you sure the IRS has your current address? Don't assume they know where you are. You want to be sure they have your correct address. The way to do this is to file a change-of-address form (Form 8822), which you can download from the IRS website. You can also call the IRS directly at 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) and ask them to send you one. I filed an 8822 form myself this year; having moved three times in the last four years, I didn't want to take any chances that a refund I was due might go astray.
Next: Check with social security