Is Your Tax Refund Taken By Your Unpaid Debt? Here's Why

Is Your Tax Refund Taken By Your Unpaid Debt? Here's Why


We all look forward to receiving our tax refunds, but what if you were expecting a refund and it never arrived?  It may be because you have outstanding federal or state debts—and not just tax-related debts.  The Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) issues federal tax refunds, and Congress authorizes BFS to reduce your refund through its Treasury Offset Program (TOP) to pay:

  • Past-due child and parent support; 
  • Federal agency non-tax debts; 
  • State income tax obligations; or 
  • Certain unemployment compensation debts owed to a state (generally, these are debts for (1) compensation paid due to fraud or (2) contributions owed to a state fund that weren't paid).


See Relax Tax’s Amending a Tax Return at


So, if you owe a debt that’s past due, all or part of your federal income tax refund may go to pay your outstanding federal or state debt if it has been submitted for tax refund offset by an agency of the federal or state government.

BFS will send you a notice if an offset occurs reflecting the original refund amount, your offset amount, the agency receiving the payment, and the address and telephone number of the agency. BFS will notify the IRS of the amount taken from your refund once your refund date has passed. You should contact the agency shown on the notice if you believe you don't owe the debt or if you're disputing the amount taken from your refund. The IRS should be contacted only if your original refund amount shown on the BFS offset notice differs from the refund amount shown on your tax return. If you don't receive a notice, contact the BFS's TOP call center at 800-304-3107 (or TTY/TDD 866-297-0517), Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.



See this related post from Dennis Harabin: Post-Pandemic Savings Burning a Hole in Your Pocket?

Not to overstate the obvious, but the last 18 months have seen major modifications in the ways that most Americans spent their money. Without the ability to visit department stores, malls, and big-box stores, retail therapy was significantly curtailed. Spending on travel, entertainment, restaurants, and bars all plummeted, and even with consumers splurging on grocery deliveries, buying essentials on Amazon, and falling prey to online sales promotions, there’s a lot more disposable cash in bank accounts than there was previously. But if retail sales reports and analyses are true, that’s all but over now. 



If you choose to wait and see what happens when you file your return, BFS will send you a notice if an offset occurs. If you wish to dispute the amount taken from your refund, you will have to contact the agency that submitted the offset claim.  It will be shown on the notice you will receive from the BFS.

If your payment was reduced because a federal or state agency thinks you owe money, you should have received a letter from that agency. Call or write to them at the contact information on the letter. If you can't find that information, you can get it by calling 800-304-3107. Only the agency that told BFS to collect the debt can work with you to return any part of the payment that should not have been taken from your refund.

If you filed a joint tax return and only one spouse is responsible for the debt, the other spouse may be entitled to part or all of the refund. To request a refund for the spouse not responsible for the offset, you can file for an injured spouse allocation. The IRS will compute the injured spouse's share of the joint refund. If you lived in a community property state during the tax year, the IRS will divide the joint refund based upon state community property law. Not all debts are subject to a tax refund offset. 

If your debt was submitted for offset, BFS will reduce your refund as needed to pay off the debt and send it to the agency you owe. Any portion of your remaining refund after offset is issued in a check or is direct deposited as originally requested on the tax return.


The Treasury Offset website includes a Q&A section.    

With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) that were issued in 2020 and early 2021, the second EIPs authorized in late December of 2021, are not subject to offset for any reason through the Treasury Offset Program. However, the first EIPs created by the CARES Act could have been entirely offset, up to the amount of an individual’s child support debt. The EIPs are advance payments of the Recovery Rebate Credit that is part of your 2020 tax return. To the extent that you have an overpayment of your 2020 income tax liability, the Recovery Rebate Credit can be reduced to pay debts you owe to Federal or state agencies.



See this related post from Dennis Harabin: The Important Steps in Taking Control of Your Finances in 2022 and Beyond

Always remember that your financial goals need to be specific, realistic, and significant. You should also make sure that whatever goals you set for yourself are measurable. You're always going to have setbacks — all of us do. But once you start to measure the progress you're making toward your goals, you'll begin to get a better sense of how far you've actually come. That feeling will soon start to generate its own momentum, which will continue to fuel all of your efforts well into the new year and beyond.



In the future, if you have an outstanding debt and want to be proactive, you can contact the agency with which you have a debt to determine if your debt was submitted for a tax refund offset.   

If you need assistance filing for an injured spouse claim or have other questions about refund offsets please give us a call at 551-249-1040 for assistance.


Do you have some questions? Dennis Harabin at Relax Tax can answer them!


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