Tax law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a tax refund. If no return is filed to claim a refund within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. The three-year limit begins on the date that the tax return was originally due.
For example, for 2016 returns due on the tax filing date in April 2017, the window of opportunity ends three years later in April 2020. The law requires that the tax return be properly addressed, mailed, and postmarked by that date. Since you don’t owe the government any money, there is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund.
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