Claims for Refund

Document Type


Publication Date





Because mistakes in the computation of tax liability are inevitable, there are provisions for adjusting the tax for understatements and the recovery of overpayments. Overpayments can be recovered either through administrative proceedings with the Service, or by litigation in court. This right to recover “refunds” is strictly limited by the Code and under common law developed through court decisions. Whether a claim for refund will be successful generally may be determined by applying the following four-part investigation: (1) whether the taxpayer duly filed an administrative claim for refund that complies with the requirements of Section 6511; (2) whether the administrative claim was timely filed within the allowable statutory period; (3) whether the amount of the refund claim asserted exceeds the limitation on amount provisions associated with the applicable limitation period; and (4) whether the taxpayer has satisfied the burden of proof applied to the claim. Section 6511 contains two sets of provisions related to timeliness. First, that section contains a filing deadline specifying that unless a claim is filed by the taxpayer within 3 years from the time the return was filed or two years from the time the tax was paid, whichever of such periods expires the later, no credit or refund is allowed. Second, the section contains two “look-back periods” which limit recovery. If a claim is filed within 3 years from the time the return was filed, “the amount of the credit or refund shall not exceed the portion of the tax paid within the period, immediately preceding the filing of the claim, equal to 3 years.” If a claim is not filed within that 3-year period, “the amount of the credit or refund shall not exceed the portion of the tax paid during the 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the claim.” The two timing components of Section 6511 work together. Sections 6511(a) and 6511(b)(1) require only that a taxpayer bring a claim within three years of filing a return or two years of paying the tax, regardless of the return's actual due date. The look-back provisions of I.R.C. § 6511(b)(2), however, limit refunds to taxes paid within the pertinent look-back window

First Page


Last Page


Num Pages


Volume Number


Series Title

Mertens Law of Federal Income Taxation


Thomson Reuters


St. Paul, MN