The IRS is looking for 86,000 Texans. But this time, it wants to pay them.Refunds exceeding $86 million may await Texas taxpayers who did not file a federal income tax return for 2009, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The agency estimates that half the potential refunds are worth more than $500.At the same time, the IRS announced this week that people may not be penalized for late payment if they are having trouble filing by April 15 because forms were delayed by last-minute congressional action on taxes. The reprieve will apply to individuals or businesses requesting extensions because they couldn't obtain required forms until February or March.The late-payment penalty, usually 0.5 percent per month, will be waived if the taxpayer used any of 31 forms that weren't ready on time, including those for the residential energy credit, the mortgage interest credit or qualified adoption expenses. Forms for depreciation deductions and various business credits are also included.However, interest of 3 percent will accrue on any unpaid taxes after April 15.To claim refund money from 2009, a return for that year must be filed no later than April 15. Nationwide, almost $1 billion is owed taxpayers who didn't file that year.The law provides most taxpayers a three-year window for claiming a refund. After that, the money goes into the federal coffers."Some people earn income and may have taxes withheld from their wages but are not required to file a tax return because they have too little income," said Clay Sanford, an IRS spokesman in Dallas. "An example might be a college student with a summer job."Consider my 17-year-old son, who recently received a $200 refund after working as a lifeguard in Arlington last summer. Even though he did not meet the income level requiring him to file ($9,750 for a single person), taxes were withheld that he could claim for a refund.We didn't know about that until we learned it through TurboTax software.Others who could qualify for refunds are senior citizens who had money withheld on retirement income, said Dan Murphy, co-coordinator of the Tarrant County division of the AARP Tax-Aide program."Anytime you have withholding, you should check whether you need to file," he said.Also needing to file are workers who had taxes withheld but are eligible for the earned income tax credit, Sanford said.On Monday, AARP Tax-Aide helped a man eligible for the EITC who had not filed in years, Murphy said. The free tax preparation service, open to filers of any age at 40 sites across Tarrant County, helped him file returns for 2009-12."His total refund was more than $6,000," Murphy said. "The refund was more than he anticipated. The EITC is usually greater than any tax that they owed."Bill Gunn, a manager for the tax program at Catholic Charities Fort Worth, which offers free services for those making $50,000 or less, said it routinely helps people file returns for prior years."We do a lot of past-year returns this time of year," he said. "Mostly it is helping clients get EITC funds they would lose."This year, Gunn said, filers using the Catholic Charities program at 11 area centers have collected refunds totaling $7 million, including $2.6 million in the EITC."We're doing really well on collecting EITC for our clients," he said. "Almost 1,200 filers have been able to make EITC claims."Documents that may be needed to file a past return include Forms W-2, 1099, 1098 and 5498 from that year.You can request copies from your employer, bank or other payer. If you can't get them from the source, you can request a free tax return transcript, Form 4506-T, from the IRS by visiting www.irs.gov or calling 800-829-1040.There is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund, but the IRS may hold checks for those seeking a refund from 2009 if they have not filed returns for 2010 and 2011. Also, the refund will first be applied to any amounts owed to the IRS or may be used to offset unpaid child support or federal debts such as student loans.The IRS tries to contact taxpayers with a form letter when they don't file, Sanford said.If the IRS thinks you're at risk for owing taxes, based on W-2, 1099 and 1098 forms it has received, the IRS could send a notice to inform you, he said.Another notice, Form CP 81, may inform you that the IRS hasn't received your tax return for a specific year and that the statute of limitations to claim a refund is about to expire.Teresa McUsic's column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net
Who should file?
Here's a guide based on filing status, age and gross earnings.
Singles who earned at least $9,750
Head of household: at least $12,500
Married filing jointly: at least $19,500
Singles, 65 or older: at least $11,200
Head of household, 65 or older: at least $13,950
Married filing jointly, one 65 or older: at least $20,650
Married filing jointly, both 65 or older: at least $21,800