Does the government have your money?

August 22, 2008 3:57:04 PM PDT
One of the benefits of reaching retirement is that many seniors do not have to file an income tax return. But not filing a return this year has many people missing out on money -- about $16 million worth for Harris County residents.

By now, most people have gotten their economic stimulus checks the government was handing out this year, but in Harris County, about $16 million worth of those checks are unclaimed. You can still get the check, but time is running out.

For many seniors, things slow down when they hit retirement. After all, retirees don't need to worry about a work schedule and for those living off Social Security, they don't need to file an income tax return, either.

James House has not filed a return in years.

"I have not been filing for the simple reason that I have not been making enough to file," he told us.

While House is not required to file, not doing so this year is costing him his portion of the economic stimulus package. That's because the stimulus checks are only going to people who file a return this year.

Plenty of people have done it, but about 40,000 Texans have not filed a return and are missing out on the money. In Harris County, $16 million in unclaimed stimulus checks are yet to be distributed and time is running out.

"You need to file by October 15," said Houston CPA Bob Martin.

Martin says seniors who make less than $9,700 a year don't usually need to file a return, but this year is different because your tax returns are tied to the stimulus payments.

It is estimated that about 55,000 Harris County residents could get an economic stimulus check, but have yet to ask for it.

"Unfortunately, the only way to get the stimulus payment is to file a tax return, even though you don't owe any tax," said Martin.

While many of those who did not file may not know they should this year, others may have a different reason for passing on the stimulus checks.

"You wonder if possibly some people are not applying for their stimulus checks because it would require them to file an income tax return and therefore, they would have to report their income that may normally go unreported," said Martin.

The bottom line is if you have not filed a tax return, you will not get a stimulus check. If you want to file a return and get a check, fill out form 1040-A. It's easy to fill out. It just takes your name, address, Social Security and income on line 14-A and you are done. We have links to the forms here.

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