Making its annual announcement, the Internal Revenue Service said that it is holding more than $2.2 billion in unclaimed refunds for about 1.8 million people who failed to file a federal income tax return for 2003.

In order to collect the money, a return for 2003 must be filed with an IRS office no later than April 17 -- the law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window of opportunity for claiming a refund before the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury.

The IRS estimates that half of the taxpayers who could claim refunds would receive more than $611. In many cases, individuals had taxes withheld from their wages, or made payments against their taxes out of self-employed earnings, but had too little income to require filing a tax return. Some taxpayers may also be eligible for the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.

Generally, unmarried individuals qualified for the EITC if in 2003 they earned less than $33,692 and had more than one qualifying child living with them, earned less than $29,666 with one qualifying child, or earned less than $11,230 and had no qualifying child. Limits were higher for married individuals filing jointly.

Taxpayers seeking a 2003 refund will have their checks held if they have not filed tax returns for 2004 or 2005, and additionally, the refund may be applied to any past due debts that the government has the authority to collect.

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