Kristie, a CNA, has been following the issue of tax offsets for years.
When tax season rolls around, many taxpayers are surprised to find out that they will not receive the refund that they think they have coming to them. If you owe money on a student loan, for child support, or for past state or federal taxes, your refund may be "offset," or withheld by the IRS. The entire refund or just part of it may be held.
Here's how to find out whether this might happen to you along with some information about when a refund can be offset.
How Can You Find Out if Your Refund Will Be Offset?
The federal Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS), part of the Department of the Treasury, issues refunds and tracks offsets. Call the Bureau of the Fiscal Service directly at this toll-free number: (800) 304-3107.
- Listen to the prerecorded message and do as instructed.
- Do not call on someone else's behalf, as this is a violation of federal law. The call center records callers' phone numbers.
- Enter your social security number when prompted. The BFS will search its database to see if there is an offset against your debt. Write down any information provided, including the creditor agency that created the offset, so that you can call with any additional questions.
- New debts are added to the database daily, so if the recording says no offsets were found, you may want to check again in a few days.
When Can a Tax Refund Be Withheld?
Your IRS tax refunds can be withheld in order to pay:
▪ Back federal taxes
▪ Past-due child and parental support
▪ Federal agency debts other than taxes, like student loans
▪ State income tax that you owe
▪ Other debts owed to a state, including overpaid unemployment compensation
You will receive a notice to let you know that your refund will be offset. The notice may arrive a couple weeks after the offset is put into the database. The notice will show your original refund amount, your offset amount, the agency that the offset was paid to, and its address and telephone number. If you receive this notice and have questions, contact the agency that received the offset directly.
Will the IRS Itself Withhold Your Refund?
If you owe money to the IRS, they will take it out of your refund even if you are already making payments under an installment agreement. They will take out any money owed to them before any other agency can make an offset.
If you think the IRS itself may withhold your refund or if the offset notice has a different figure for your refund than the one you calculated in your return, call the IRS directly at 1-(800)-829-1040.
If you owe money to a federal government agency other than the IRS, you can call that agency directly to find out if your refund will be used to pay your debt.
Can You Prevent Your Tax Refund From Being Taken to Pay Student Loans?
If your student loan is already "in default" (270 days late or more), the IRS will hold up your refund and apply it to your student loan, and there is no easy way to ever get this money back. You can find out if your own federal student loans are in default by looking them up on the National Student Loan Data System, a government database.
"If your loans are in default, you might lose your tax refund. You can avoid this by not filing, and getting your loans out of default," says Joshua Cohen, a Vermont attorney who represents former students in disputes about their loans. Since you can wait up to three years to file for a given year's refund, you want to remove the default first by setting up a payment schedule with the lender. "After fixing your loan status, wait 60 days, then file for your refund. That is the only safe way to keep your refund." See Cohen's video below.
If you are falling behind on your student loan payments, US News and World Report says the lender should mail you a notice before setting up an offset. These notices typically go out at the end of the summer. To try to prevent the offset, contact the loan holder who mailed out the notice and work with them to set up a payment schedule.
What If the Offset Is Your Spouse’s Fault and Not Yours?
If you are married and file jointly, and your spouse's refund will be offset, you may be entitled to your part of the refund. To find out, file an Injured Spouse Allocation form, or form 8379. For more information about this process, call the Bureau of the Fiscal Service at the number above, (800)-304-3107. The IRS website has detailed advice about form 8379. You can file the form with your tax return or file it separately after you receive notice of an offset.
Will a State Offset Your State Tax Refund?
A state can take your state tax refund to pay the IRS or other government agencies, and if your student loan is with a state guaranty agency, a state can take your state refund to pay student loan debt.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: When do you receive a notice of a Federal Tax Refund by mail?
Answer: You may not receive a notice.
Cristina on August 30, 2020:
My ex got a letter for his and wife taxes but he owes his back child support when will I get mine
Tya white on May 12, 2018:
My tax advocate said my taxes were released to my bank account, can irs still take the money?
NewPaGal2015 on March 28, 2018:
My original refund was to be 3849. After my divorce, my ex didn't pay his tax obligation as stated in divorce papers, so they held my entire refund in 2016 and 201. The balance of what he did not pay was taken from this years refund and WMR was updated to say that my refund would be deposited today 3/28/18 in the amount of $3139.36. I haven't received it and called the Treasury Offset program which now states a new message of Tax payment was offset by the amount off $3139.36, I called the number it listed and it takes me back to IR, but I cannot get a human. Does this mean that I am now getting nothing?
Rina on March 26, 2018:
When I call the offset number it says I will be offset for 383.00 by the us dept of education.. but then it says i have 2 debts.. us dept of education and us dept of social services.. I have verified both debts. My question is will I be offset for only the amount stated the 383 or for everything?
Ken on March 01, 2018:
I called and it said it has no record of offset or debt.... but they have taken over $1000 of my return over the last 2 years.....
Louise Collacchi on February 28, 2018:
If I have an outstanding student loan and I go to Rapid Refund to get my income tax will they let me know right there and then that my student loan will be taken out of my income tax
jasmine on February 26, 2018:
i called it stated it ''could be offset'' does the automated give other reasons like will be offset etc ??
Row40 on February 24, 2018:
The where's my refund page said they offset me by 800 dollars. But calling the BFS # it says there are no debts or offsets under my ss#. Last year I had an offset close to this same amount for child support but I don't owe child support anymore, I don't owe back taxes, school loans, or unemployment. This has got me frustrated and confused.
Shay on February 22, 2018:
If u owe child support or any kind of federal debt and are at default trust and believe they will take ur refund. You get a letter in the mail like 2 weeks after they garnish it. Speaking from experience.
Dorothy on February 19, 2018:
Okay. I am really confused. On February 15 2018 I called the Top Hotline. We had a debt. As of February 16 there was no debts or offsets for the social security number provided. Mind you we live in PA. Our debt was discovered in 2014 for over payment of food stamps. So I called the inspector general office they said yes we were being offset. Called Harrisburg PA Treasury gentleman said money being to them Feb 22. Called the IRS HE SAID they are the backbone to decide if the debt is to be paid or not. Called a tax expert. She said go with what WHERE'S MY REFUND says. Which is Married filing jointly refund amount 1390. Then read your refund will be sent to your bank Feb 22 if not received by Feb 27 contact your financial institution. Then Tax Topic 203. Nothing says it's was taken not that were not receiving it.
So confused. Can some help me pleade
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 19, 2018:
What information is out of date?
Paul Hinz on February 17, 2018:
When I call the automated TOPS line it says I only have one tax offset for student loans but it mentions nothing to of one for child support arrears? Can only one offset occur per tax season?
Cee on February 08, 2018:
Can someone please update the offset information it is out dates
Dee on February 04, 2018:
So I called the number and it said I have a debt but it doesn’t say if it’s offset or not.
Esmeralda Sandoval on January 06, 2018:
I'm getting money deducted from my job from state Federal taxes. I don't know why if I fill every year. How can I find out if the office I filled with last year messed up or who I owe
Bettina Escamilla on December 29, 2017:
I owed childsupport but went to court on it and got ot dtopped to 0 balance . now can i get my refund back
Dee on December 08, 2017:
So I called the number and it said I have a debt pending but it doesn’t say if it’s offset or not.
Mindy on June 05, 2017:
Sick and tired of the government stealing off of hard working tax payers not giving tax refunds back they are taking rights away everyday nothing but a bunch of theivies with sticky fingers
Perry on May 11, 2017:
How long does it take if you you owe childsupport before the fund are release to the child, once the father receive letter.
Sean Colemon on May 01, 2017:
I called the offset line daily. It kept saying no offset was showing under my social security I provided.. I went to check my refund status, but it said my taxes was taken for past tax obligation.. Is the number not updated
Eddie on April 06, 2017:
My wife has had student loans for years. I call offset nunber and says no non tax debt. What does that mean
Dawn Furton on April 04, 2017:
Want to know if my income tax was withheld?
Nique on March 11, 2017:
I haven't filed yet but I was recently cleared with the collection agency for my student loan but the offset hotline is still showing show possible offset in system how long does it take to update
michelle barraza on March 07, 2017:
my taxes are being offset for $400.00 how long will they hold the rest of my taxes
Anonymous on March 05, 2017:
Can they tax refund after 7 years for unemployment
Megan on February 27, 2017:
I have no debt to the IRS yet I was informed that they took my refund for a debt. The phone number is having technical difficulties
Angel Hunter on February 20, 2017:
My state check is being offset for an old bill will that delay my federal return ?
Anonymous on February 20, 2017:
I have a question. The department of ed took my federal income tax refund but,will they also take my state refund?
Amy on February 20, 2017:
I owe student loans and was told they didnt send me a letter out so its a possibility they may or may not taken my taxes. I filed on the 1st just checked wheres my refund and it says still processing but with no error code does this mean they took them or they arent taking them?
took my refund on February 19, 2017:
if you called the offset telephone number before you filed your return and said no offsets at the current time and not even a week later my whole refund is going to be taken all but 104 bucks. help, thing is it was 2013 they say and I'm I wasn't working and a dependent on married filing together. Ive been separated since 2014 and needed every penny of this refund. what do you do
Becca on February 18, 2017:
If I owe back child support can they take it out my tax refund?
Kym on February 16, 2017:
How long after owing student loans will IRS offset refund ??
Jlj3007 on February 08, 2017:
I had a wage garnishment on my payroll for student loan and I recently got let go from my job about 4 months ago, I paid a total of 1000 dollars over 4 months of the wage attachment, will the IRS stay with my refund? Or because I was having payment taken from my check will I be lucky and revive my refund??
unkown on February 08, 2017:
Can you get a rapid refund, if you owe child support?
Kc on February 07, 2017:
So if I owe state taxes from a 1099 and I just received letter in 2016 will they take my 2017 refund
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 07, 2017:
It is possible, keep checking the number, debts are added daily.
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 07, 2017:
So far, it will not be taken but debts are added daily so check back when you file your tax return.
Latonya on February 07, 2017:
I made arrangements to pay taxes owed. Will they still take my refund for federal?
Logan Smith on February 06, 2017:
Im on federal Probation. And owe restitution. When I called that number it states that I could be off set but I pay monthly... will they take all my money
Deshawn on February 01, 2017:
If my wages are being garnished already will my taxes still be taken from me.
MPM on January 31, 2017:
Author says "You will receive a notice, however, to let you know that your refund will be offset." A notice from who, exactly?
Erin on January 30, 2017:
They will take all of your taxes for any child support you owe up to the total of your refund...so if you owe 2000 in child support and your refund is 2055 you will get 55 refund
stacey on January 12, 2017:
hello. i have a question about child support. When i get my income tax will child support take it all, or a percentage? so how can i find out?
KKING3 on December 26, 2016:
ITS SAYS NO Information at the time. what does that mean
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 18, 2016:
Ahkron yes that means they will take your return to cover the debt
Jeremy on February 10, 2016:
How do I no for sure will take my taxes
Darlene on February 08, 2016:
Well I don't owe anything but my spouse does and all it said there is a current debt for his social security number.
dupree on February 07, 2016:
@Arteclea Damn! I strongly agree with didnt think of that but too late allready call so ill have to wait and see
ahkorin on February 03, 2016:
I owe student loans and when I call the number, it says it found a debt and could be offset, this means they will take it right?
parks88 on January 03, 2016:
its says the information is not available at this time, what does that mean?
jess on April 08, 2015:
It has been almost two months since I filed still no refund it still says being processed I have not gotten any letters emails or anything saying they took them when I call this number it says I have one payment that could make it offset but it don't equal what my TAxes equal
Queen on February 27, 2015:
You can speak to an actual person by choosing the option of asking another question about your federal return. Just don't choose the option to know if your federal refund has been or will be offset, it will only take you to automated system for answer . I choose other option and speak to someone
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 06, 2015:
Thats awesome cjd....Just to let everyone know, this is legit. I have been calling this number for years to make sure my taxes are not taken and nothing has ever happened to me by giving my social security number. It is the Treasury Departments actual phone number....
Cjd on February 04, 2015:
I called last year and they said it would be taken and it wasn't...
Danie on January 28, 2015:
I called it said no offset, but the where's my refund website said it was offset. I'm so confused as to what happened and where to find correct information on this topic.
christy on January 22, 2015:
how accurate is this system? it said i do not have any debts at this time. can i count on that?
Paul Davidson on November 04, 2014:
Nice post. It is such an informative article. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a form tax forms, I found a blank forms in this site PDFfiller. This site also has some tutorials on how to fill it out and a tons of fillable tax forms that you might find useful. Here is a link to the blank form that I was able to fill out http://goo.gl/0AYkmQ.
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 13, 2014:
It tells you if your taxes will be offset or default. That means your taxes will be taken.
kmackey32 (author) from Pittsburgh PA on February 09, 2014:
Arteclea, the number is to find out if your tax return will be taken if you owe child support or a federal loan. It is an automated service. It doesn't matter if you have filed yet and you will not beable to tell them because it is an automated service, no one will answer for you to beable to tell them anything.
Arteclea on February 07, 2014:
If you call the number listed in your article, do you then alert them that you are filing/have file just by calling? After all you do give your ss# and they tend to track you by that. Thoughts?