Hundreds still owed tax funds

LAWRENCEVILLE - Need Christmas cash?

The Tax Man is practically begging you to take it.

The Internal Revenue Service says it has $265,000 in unclaimed tax returns owed to Gwinnett and Barrow residents. More than two-thirds of the 274 taxpayers owed money live in Duluth, Lawrenceville and Norcross, according to the IRS.

Some 2,546 Georgia taxpayers owed a combined $2.5 million have not picked up their 2005 refunds. The average check is $964. In some cases, there is more than one check waiting.

Each year, the IRS sends out its list of undelivered refunds hoping it will jar the memories or initiative of taxpayers to pick up their money. This year, however, the IRS says it's more urgent to get money back in the hands of taxpayers because many are Hurricane Katrina victims who have fled the Gulf Coast and relocated to metro Atlanta.

Nearly 2,000 taxpayers on the list are from Louisiana and Mississippi, the IRS said.

IRS refund checks go unclaimed for many reasons. Sometimes, as in the case of hurricane victims, people face a significant change in their normal lives.

Often, whether the result of adversity, a new job, or a death in the family, the person is forced to move and fails to notify the IRS or U.S. Postal Service.

Electronic filing, which deposits refunds into a taxpayer's account, has helped reduce the number of unclaimed tax returns. Another feature is the "Where's My Refund" link on the IRS Web site.

Taxpayers who filed claims can wait as long as they want to get their money, IRS spokesman Eric Erickson said.

"This money will never go away," he said. "Obviously, we want them to claim their money as soon as possible, but should they wait a few years, it will still be there for them."

It's a different story for procrastinators who know they are owed a 2005 refund, but still have not filled out their tax forms.

They have three years from the April 15 deadline to file - or say goodbye to the money.