Sometimes things that are not wholly new come up in a way that strikes us in a new way. That happened this week when the IRS released a notice saying there are more $1.3 billion in tax refunds waiting for people who did not file 2017 returns.
This number comes out every year as the three-year deadline to claim these refunds is reached. And it is not the size of the current number that is staggering - it always is - but it seems to stand out a little more now after a year when so many battled through difficult financial times.
As part of the IRS’s release on this matter, it states that the midpoint for these refunds is $865. That means about half of the estimated 1.3 million taxpayers who could still get one of these refunds are expected to get more than that amount. That could be a huge benefit for some who need it.
One cannot help but then start thinking about why these returns are unfiled. I suspect a large part of that is not some willful choice by taxpayers. I mean, who is going to choose to not receive money that they are owed by the government? Sure, there may be some people who chose not to file taxes out of a fear they would find they owed money, but I think the overwhelming majority has to be people who did not know what they were supposed to do.
This ignorance can come from many places. I imagine that some start their working life without realizing they must file taxes. I think most people have some concept that they have to pay taxes, but when you see them coming out of your paycheck, you may think that it’s all being taken care of. And even if at some point you find that this is not the case, fear probably keeps many from looking backward, even if it could have resulted in them getting refunds from the past. After all, when people come to us and have to file old tax returns, it is rarely for just one year.
I do not think there is any easy way to fix this. If the tax system were easy, there could be some logline to communicate to everyone what their obligation will be. The American tax system is anything but easy, though, so it should not be too surprising that there are those who do not understand their obligations and end up not filing.
But $1.3 billion??? That is still pretty surprising. And surprising enough that I thought it worth putting into this blog to hopefully do a little bit to increase the education of tax filing.
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