Taxpayers Only Have 3 Weeks to Claim $1 Billion From the IRS

Are you one of the millions of taxpayers that the IRS owes hundreds of dollars to? Not after May 17, you aren't.

What’s cooler than a tax refund? $1 billion in tax refunds. That’s how much the IRS has sitting around in unclaimed refunds from the 2020 tax year. Better, you might actually be able to get a part of it.

However, there’s a tight deadline before it’s all gone forever: The IRS will only hold onto that big pot of money until May 17.

According to the IRS themselves, the average median refund for 2020 comes out to an impressive $932. And since everyone’s owed their refund, that’s essentially money that the IRS is legally taking out of the pockets of the average person who didn’t file for their refund back in 2021. No, I don’t know why we run our country this way, either.

You may have already filed your taxes for this year. Here’s how to file your 2020 taxes and get your chunk of that $1 billion.

Here’s Why the Refund Deadline Is May 17, 2024

Typically, the IRS gives US taxpayers a three-year window to file and claim any tax refunds they’re owed. After that deadline, the unclaimed funds become the property of the US Treasury.

The deadline usually falls in April — for instance, 2023 tax returns were supposed to be filed on April 15 this year, so April 15, 2027 will be the final deadline for recovering refunds from this year. But back in 2020, the Covid pandemic had just settled in, and amid all that disruption, the IRS pushed back the deadline to file to May 17.

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So, May 17, 2024 is the final deadline to recover that $1 billion in refunds that has been sitting around for three years.

940,000 People Never Claimed Their 2020 Return

According to its own press release, the IRS “estimates the midpoint for the individual refund amounts for 2020 to be $932 — that is, half of the refunds are more than $932 and half are less.”

However, this estimate does not include the Recovery Rebate Credit or other similar credits, even though they may be available (at least, up until May 17). In other words, you might be able to receive even more money.

IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel had a few guesses as to why so many refunds remain unclaimed:

“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. People may have just overlooked these, including students, part-time workers and others. Some people may not realize they may be owed a refund.”

There’s one final catch that might help to explain why so much money is sitting around unclaimed: The IRS always reserves the right to garnish your refund in order to cover your outstanding debts. And since that garnishment can be as large as the entire refund, it’s plausable that plenty of taxpayers are simply avoiding a lot of paperwork that wouldn’t result in them receiving a penny.

Refunds might also be held back by the IRS for those who still need to file their 2021 and 2022 returns as well. Still, as long as you don’t have IRS or state tax debt, you might have a lot of money coming your way.

How Do I File a 2020 Tax Return in 2024?

The official IRS website hosts all the tax forms you need to file – and that includes previous years, like 2020. Just head over to and look for tax year 2020 forms 1040 and 1040-SR, which are the relevant forms needed for the refunds mentioned above.

There’s also a toll-free number to call, for those who prefering speaking over the phone: 800-TAX-FORM (that’s 800-829-3676).

However, you’ll need more than the forms themselves: You’ll need to have personal tax documents. You have three options for getting them. We’ve listed them here, starting with the best option:

  • Get your transcript online. The IRS has an online portal that lets anyone access their personal tax records, including your payment history and how much you owe. It’s the fastest way to get the data you need.
  • Request copies from your employers or your bank. They’ll likely have sent your tax info already back at the start of 2021, but if you’ve misplaced the documents, you can just get in touch with them to ask for another copy of forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498.
  • Get your transcript by mail. You can also file form 4506-T to get the right transcript by mail. You may have access to more information this way, but the process will get you weeks, so you might not get everything finished by that May 17 deadline.

What’s the Average Refund Size in Your State?

The IRS was kind enough to release a full list that breaks down the median refund across all 50 US states and the District of Columbia, along with the total number of people who have yet to file their 2020 taxes.

Check out your own state here:

  • Alabama: 15,200 people with median refunds of $926 each
  • Alaska: 3,700 people with median refunds of $931
  • Arizona: 25,400 people with median refunds of $871
  • Arkansas: 8,700 people with median refunds of $923
  • California: 88,200 people with median refunds of $835
  • Colorado: 18,500 people with median refunds of $894
  • Connecticut: 9,800 people with median refunds of $978
  • Delaware: 3,600 people with median refunds of $945
  • District of Columbia: 2,900 people with median refunds of $968
  • Florida: 53,200 people with median refunds of $891
  • Georgia: 36,400 people with median refunds of $900
  • Hawaii: 5,200 people with median refunds of $979
  • Idaho: 4,500 people with median refunds of $761
  • Illinois: 36,200 people with median refunds of $956
  • Indiana: 19,200 people with median refunds of $922
  • Iowa: 9,600 people with median refunds of $953
  • Kansas: 8,700 people with median refunds of $900
  • Kentucky: 10,600 people with median refunds of $920
  • Louisiana: 15,100 people with median refunds of $957
  • Maine: 3,800 people with median refunds of $923
  • Maryland: 22,200 people with median refunds of $991
  • Massachusetts: 21,800 people with median refunds of $975
  • Michigan: 34,900 people with median refunds of $976
  • Minnesota: 13,500 people with median refunds of $818
  • Mississippi: 8,100 people with median refunds of $861
  • Missouri: 19,500 people with median refunds of $893
  • Montana: 3,400 people with median refunds of $851
  • Nebraska: 4,700 people with median refunds of $901
  • Nevada: 10,200 people with median refunds of $890
  • New Hampshire: 4,200 people with median refunds of $982
  • New Jersey: 24,400 people with median refunds of $920
  • New Mexico: 6,500 people with median refunds of $868
  • New York: 51,400 people with median refunds of $1,029
  • North Carolina: 27,500 people with median refunds of $895
  • North Dakota: 2,200 people with median refunds of $953
  • Ohio: 31,400 people with median refunds of $909
  • Oklahoma: 14,300 people with median refunds of $902
  • Oregon: 15,300 people with median refunds of $847
  • Pennsylvania: 38,600 people with median refunds of $1,031
  • Rhode Island: 2,600 people with median refunds of $986
  • South Carolina: 11,900 people with median refunds of $840
  • South Dakota: 2,200 people with median refunds of $892
  • Tennessee: 16,800 people with median refunds of $909
  • Texas: 93,400 people with median refunds of $960
  • Utah: 7,800 people with median refunds of $836
  • Vermont: 1,700 people with median refunds of $911
  • Virginia: 25,900 people with median refunds of $914
  • Washington: 26,200 people with median refunds of $976
  • West Virginia: 3,800 people with median refunds of $950
  • Wisconsin: 11,800 people with median refunds of $837
  • Wyoming: 2,100 people with median refunds of $961

It’s no surprise that the most populated states, like Texas and California, have the most taxpayers who have yet to get around to their 2020 filing.

Interestingly, the median tax refund owed by people from just two states were able to crack four digits, however: New York, with a $1,029 median, and Pennsylvania, with the highest median, $1,031.

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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