A taxpayer who wishes to obtain a refund from the IRS for overpayment of taxes cannot do so unless the written refund claim is filed with the IRS within the proper time period. In general, this means that the refund claim must be filed within three years from the time that the tax return was initially filed, or two years from the time the tax was actually paid, whichever is later (1).

Restrictions on the Amount of the Claim

While IRC section 6511(a) governs the statute of limitations for filing the written refund claim, section 6511(b) governs the amount of money that a taxpayer can receive as a refund. Under section 6511(b), the refund amount may be limited where the taxpayer files the refund claim within three years of the date of the tax return. In that case, the amount of refund or credit cannot exceed the amount of tax paid in the three-year period immediately preceding the filing of the claim, plus any extension applied to the filing of the return (2).

Where the taxpayer files the claim relying on the two-year period for refund claims, a different limitation on the amount of refund applies. In that case, the amount of refund or credit is limited to the amount of tax paid within two years. This rule applies even if the taxpayer filed the return more than three years before the claim, or even if the taxpayer never filed a return (3).

Statute of Limitations for Filing a Refund Suit

If the taxpayer elects to file a lawsuit and pursue tax litigation for refund after filing a written refund claim, he or she must do so within two years after the IRS sends a Notice of Claim Disallowance. A Notice of Claim Disallowance is the formal rejection letter that the IRS sends to the taxpayer when it determines that it will not refund the taxpayer’s refund claim. The IRS must send this letter through registered or certified mail. The taxpayer cannot file the refund suit until the earlier of six months after filing a refund claim, or the date that the IRS formally rejects the refund claim by sending a Notice of Claim Disallowance. Refund suits should be filed in the U.S. Claims Court or the Federal District Court.

Calculating the Date of Payment for the Purposes of Tax Refund Claims

The date of payment for the purposes of tax refund claims is the date that the IRS actually receives the payment, as opposed to the date the taxpayer mails or postmarks the payment (4). If a taxpayer has income tax withholding during the year, the payment date for those withholdings is deemed to be paid on the following April 15 (5). When the taxpayer makes estimated tax payments, those payments are deemed to have a payment date of the due date without regard to any extensions (6). If a taxpayer has made an overpayment and chooses to have the refund applied to the following year, the payment date for the credit is deemed to be the date of the return for the following year.

How a Tax Attorney Can Help with Statutes of Limitations on Claims

The Tax Lawyer - William D Hartsock Tax Attorney Inc. has been successfully helping clients file claims for refunds with the IRS since the early 1980s. Mr. Hartsock offers free consultations with the full benefit and protections of attorney client privilege to help people clearly understand their situation and options based on the circumstances of their case. To schedule your free consultation simply fill out the contact form found on this page, or call (858) 481-4844.

Tax Law References:

  1. IRC § 6511(a).
  2. IRC § 6511(b)(2)(a).
  3. IRC § 6511(b)(2)(b); IRC § 301.6511(b)-(1)(b)(1)(iii).
  4. Republic Oil Refining Company v. Granger, 98 F.Supp. 921 (W.D. Pa. 1951).
  5. IRC § 6513(b)(1).
  6. IRC § 6513(b)(2).


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