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$2-billion in taxes unclaimed

Taxpayers who have fallen behind on their paperwork - way, way behind - have a $2-billion incentive to get caught up.

The IRS owes more than $2-billion to more than 1.7-million people who never filed tax returns for 2002. Half could get checks worth more than $570.

To collect the refunds, taxpayers must file a 2002 tax return before this year's April 17 filing deadline. The IRS urges taxpayers to check their records and seize the opportunity to claim their money.

"We want people to get the refunds they're entitled to," IRS commissioner Mark Everson said. "Taxpayers can't get a refund if they don't file a return."

The IRS gives people three years to claim a refund before the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury. Taxpayers face no penalties for filing a late return if the IRS owes them a refund.

People due a refund, in many cases, did not make enough money to be required to file a tax return but paid too much in taxes during the year. Taxes could have been withheld from paychecks or a self-employed taxpayer may have made tax payments on earnings. Some may be eligible for the earned income tax credit, a benefit designed to help pull the working poor out of poverty.

Forms and instructions for prior years can be found on the IRS Web site, or they can be ordered by calling1-800-829-3676. The IRS also has a toll-free help line, 1-800-829-1040.