Unclaimed refunds totaling more than $2 billion are awaiting about 1.7 million people who failed to file a federal income tax return for 2002, the Internal Revenue Service said.

In order to collect the cash, a return for 2002 must be filed with an IRS office no later than April 17.

The agency estimated that about half of those who could claim refunds would receive more than $570. A state-by-state breakout of individuals who failed to file and their estimated refunds i s available at www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=154625,00.html .

In many cases the IRS believes that 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 earned income tax credit.

"We want people to get the refunds they're entitled to," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, in a statement. "We urge taxpayers to double-check their records before the April 17th deadline."

If no return is filed to claim the refund within three years, the money becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.

There is no penalty assessed by the IRS for filing a late return qualifying for a refund.

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