Central Valley

Millions in tax refunds still unclaimed

If Santa didn't bring you everything you wanted this year, the tax man may help.

More than $26 million in unclaimed state and federal tax refund checks are waiting for their rightful owners in California.

Each year, millions of dollars in refund checks are returned to the Internal Revenue Service and the California Franchise Tax Board as undeliverable.

The IRS owes $767,784 in refunds to 810 taxpayers in a six-county area that includes Merced, Mariposa, Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare counties.

While there are many reasons, the most common is that people move and fail to provide the IRS and state with a forwarding address.

"People notify their bank, their credit cards, even their magazine subscriptions, but they forget to notify us," said John Barrett, spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board.

Barrett said the state refund checks range from $1 to $123,000.

"It makes it well worth it to log onto our Web site and check it out," Barrett said. "There could be money there to help pay off some of those credit cards."

Barrett said the state automatically reissues unclaimed refund checks once a new address is received.

He also urges tax filers to sign up for direct deposit for a faster and more reliable way to get their refund.

The IRS owes $266,000 to tax filers in the city of Fresno alone.

"We want to return this money as quickly as possible," said IRS spokesman Jesse Weller.

"The IRS has made it very easy to provide a good address, and that's all that is needed for us to send out the refund check."

Nationwide, the IRS is looking for 115,478 taxpayers who are due refund checks worth about $110 million.

The refund checks, averaging about $953, can be claimed as soon as taxpayers update their addresses with the IRS. Some have more than one check waiting.

Weller said the list of taxpayers due undeliverable refunds rose about 21% this year, up from 95,746 last year.

The increase was due in part to the Telephone Excise Tax Refund, the one-time payment available on 2006 federal income tax returns.