November 28, 2008 -- Nearly 280,000 Americans have a nice holiday surprise awaiting them, but if they don't act by the time the clock strikes midnight tonight, they might be kissing about $163 million goodbye. That's how much the Internal Revenue Service says it has remaining in returned economic stimulus payments, and it's looking for those people whose checks never reached them.
"It really is crucial for people to get their money this year through the economic stimulus process," said IRS spokesman Eric Smith. He said most of the checks were undeliverable because someone moved and didn't leave a forwarding address or contact information was ineligible.
To check whether or not there's a check waiting with your name on it, you can visit the IRS website. Be prepared to input your social security number, filing status, and the number of exemptions on your 2007 tax return to see if you're one of the lucky ones with money waiting for you. Once someone updates his or her address, the check will be re-sent. Updates can also be made by calling 1-866-234-2942.
Today's deadline is necessary, Smith said, because the law states that the payments have to be doled out by the end of the year. But he added that if, for some reason, someone misses the deadline, they should still contact the IRS to apply for a reimbursement, although there is no guarantee that there will be enough time to process it.
"But most people want to get their money sooner of course," Smith said. All of the unclaimed money will eventually go back into the U.S. Treasury. The checks average $583, the IRS says.
Congressman Ron Klein of Florida has been urging his constituents to check if they're owed money because it's "a time when people are hurting…and every last dollar counts."
"Particularly at the holiday time, whether it's to pay for a turkey or for a couple extra Christmas presents, I think it goes a long way," Klein said. "Most importantly, it's money that's the taxpayer's money."
In addition to the undelivered economic stimulus payments, the IRS has an additional $103 million in 104,000 regular refund checks waiting to be claimed, although the IRS says there really is no deadline for claiming them. These checks average $988.