In some cases, a taxpayer may believe that he or she is entitled to a refund from the IRS. A claim for refund is a tax appeal request to the Internal Revenue Service for reimbursement of all or a portion of taxes paid in prior years due to a mistake, correction, or a credit or loss that can decrease an earlier year’s tax liability. Refunds may be granted when the taxpayer can show overpayment to the IRS (1).

When Can an Overpayment to a Taxpayer Occur?

A taxpayer may be able to get a refund from the IRS when it can be proven that he or she has overpaid their taxes. An overpayment can occur in a number of different situations, such as over-withholding of income taxes, overpayment of estimated taxes, carry-backs of net operating losses, capital loss, or business credit adjustments made in an amended return. The Internal Revenue Code also authorizes the IRS to pay refunds to taxpayers following adjustments made as a result of an IRS audit.

Statute of Limitations Applying to a Claim for Refund

To successfully obtain a refund from the IRS, the taxpayer must meet certain requirements. The first requirement is that the claim for refund must be made before the expiration of the statute of limitations for refunds. This period is generally three years, which means that taxpayers have until the later of three years from the date of the original deadline of the tax return to claim a refund. Another component to the statute of limitations for refunds states that taxpayers have two years from the date the tax was actually paid to claim a refund of overpaid taxes from the IRS (2). An additional limitation on the refund process applies to civil actions for refunds: a civil action for refund cannot instituted unless a claim for refund was previously filed within the applicable statute of limitations (3).

What Content Must I Include in a Claim for Refund?

The claim for refund can either be made on a tax return or in a separate written request. First, a taxpayer can request a refund on the tax refund itself, by requesting that an overpayment shown on the tax return be refunded or credited to the following tax year. Alternatively, a taxpayer can file a written request for a refund after a tax return is filed.

In writing an effective request for refund, the taxpayer must include the grounds upon which the taxpayer relies for the claim and these grounds must be set forth in detail. In addition, the written claim must provide all facts sufficient to apprise the IRS of the exact bases of the claim for refund (4). Prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations, the taxpayer can amend a claim for refund to include additional grounds for the refund, or file an entirely new claim. However, once the statute of limitations passes, these options are not available (5).

When Can I File an Informal Claim for Refund?

In rare cases, the IRS allows taxpayers to file informal refund claims in lieu of completing a more formal written request. These informal claims must still contain some written request that apprises the IRS that a refund is sought. The informal claim must also state which tax years were involved in the request for refund.

How a Tax Attorney Can Help with Claims for Refund?

The Tax Lawyer - William D. Hartsock 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.


  1. IRC § 6402(a).
  2. IRC § 6511(b)(1).
  3. IRC § 7422(a); IRC § 301.6402-2(a)(1).
  4. IRC § 301.6402-2(b)(1).
  5. Boyd v. United States, 762 F.2d 1369 (9th Cir. 1985); Quarty v. United States, 170 F.3d 961 (9th Cir. 1999); Synergy Staffing v. United States, 323 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2003).

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