How to Find out If Your Federal Tax Refund Will Be Offset

Updated on April 12, 2018
kmackey32 profile image

Kristie, a CNA, has been following the issue of tax offsets for years.

Call the Bureau of the Fiscal Service to find out whether your federal tax refund will be taken to pay a debt, child support, or student loan.
Call the Bureau of the Fiscal Service to find out whether your federal tax refund will be taken to pay a debt, child support, or student loan.

When tax season rolls around, many taxpayers are surprised to find out that they will not receive the refund that 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 may happen to you, plus more 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 directly that received the offset.

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. And they will take it 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 or more late), 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.

Delay for Refunds Involving Earned Income Credit, Additional Child Tax Credit

In 2018, as in 2017, the IRS will delay processing tax refunds for those claiming the earned income credit (EIC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC). The IRS does not expect to issue any refunds for these filers until February 27 at the earliest, and even then only for those who asked for direct deposit and had no issues with their return. Starting then, you can check the timing of your return online daily at Where's My Refund. You will need your social security number and the exact amount of your refund.

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    • profile image

      Tya white 

      5 months ago

      My tax advocate said my taxes were released to my bank account, can irs still take the money?

    • profile image

      Rina 

      6 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Ken 

      7 months ago

      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.....

    • profile image

      Louise Collacchi 

      7 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      jasmine 

      7 months ago

      i called it stated it ''could be offset'' does the automated give other reasons like will be offset etc ??

    • profile image

      Row40 

      7 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Shay 

      7 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Dorothy 

      7 months ago

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      7 months ago from Pittsburgh PA

      What information is out of date?

    • profile image

      Paul Hinz 

      8 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      Cee 

      8 months ago

      Can someone please update the offset information it is out dates

    • profile image

      Dee 

      8 months ago

      So I called the number and it said I have a debt but it doesn’t say if it’s offset or not.

    • profile image

      Esmeralda Sandoval 

      9 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Bettina Escamilla 

      9 months ago

      I owed childsupport but went to court on it and got ot dtopped to 0 balance . now can i get my refund back

    • profile image

      Dee 

      10 months ago

      So I called the number and it said I have a debt pending but it doesn’t say if it’s offset or not.

    • profile image

      Mindy 

      16 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Perry 

      17 months ago

      How long does it take if you you owe childsupport before the fund are release to the child, once the father receive letter.

    • profile image

      Sean Colemon 

      17 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Eddie 

      18 months ago

      My wife has had student loans for years. I call offset nunber and says no non tax debt. What does that mean

    • profile image

      Dawn Furton 

      18 months ago

      Want to know if my income tax was withheld?

    • profile image

      Nique 

      19 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      michelle barraza 

      19 months ago

      my taxes are being offset for $400.00 how long will they hold the rest of my taxes

    • profile image

      Anonymous 

      19 months ago

      Can they tax refund after 7 years for unemployment

    • profile image

      Megan 

      19 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Angel Hunter 

      20 months ago

      My state check is being offset for an old bill will that delay my federal return ?

    • profile image

      Anonymous 

      20 months ago

      I have a question. The department of ed took my federal income tax refund but,will they also take my state refund?

    • profile image

      Amy 

      20 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      took my refund 

      20 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Becca 

      20 months ago

      If I owe back child support can they take it out my tax refund?

    • profile image

      Kym 

      20 months ago

      How long after owing student loans will IRS offset refund ??

    • profile image

      Jlj3007 

      20 months ago

      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??

    • profile image

      unkown 

      20 months ago

      Can you get a rapid refund, if you owe child support?

    • profile image

      Kc 

      20 months ago

      So if I owe state taxes from a 1099 and I just received letter in 2016 will they take my 2017 refund

    • kmackey32 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      20 months ago from Pittsburgh PA

      It is possible, keep checking the number, debts are added daily.

    • kmackey32 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      20 months ago from Pittsburgh PA

      So far, it will not be taken but debts are added daily so check back when you file your tax return.

    • profile image

      Latonya 

      20 months ago

      I made arrangements to pay taxes owed. Will they still take my refund for federal?

    • profile image

      Logan Smith 

      20 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Deshawn 

      20 months ago

      If my wages are being garnished already will my taxes still be taken from me.

    • profile image

      MPM 

      20 months ago

      Author says "You will receive a notice, however, to let you know that your refund will be offset." A notice from who, exactly?

    • profile image

      Erin 

      20 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      stacey 

      21 months ago

      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?

    • profile image

      KKING3 

      21 months ago

      ITS SAYS NO Information at the time. what does that mean

    • kmackey32 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      2 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Ahkron yes that means they will take your return to cover the debt

    • profile image

      Jeremy 

      2 years ago

      How do I no for sure will take my taxes

    • profile image

      Darlene 

      2 years ago

      Well I don't owe anything but my spouse does and all it said there is a current debt for his social security number.

    • profile image

      dupree 

      2 years ago

      @Arteclea Damn! I strongly agree with didnt think of that but too late allready call so ill have to wait and see

    • profile image

      ahkorin 

      2 years ago

      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?

    • profile image

      parks88 

      2 years ago

      its says the information is not available at this time, what does that mean?

    • profile image

      jess 

      3 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      Queen 

      3 years ago

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      3 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      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....

    • profile image

      Cjd 

      3 years ago

      I called last year and they said it would be taken and it wasn't...

    • profile image

      Danie 

      3 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      christy 

      3 years ago

      how accurate is this system? it said i do not have any debts at this time. can i count on that?

    • profile image

      Paul Davidson 

      3 years ago

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      It tells you if your taxes will be offset or default. That means your taxes will be taken.

    • kmackey32 profile imageAUTHOR

      kmackey32 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      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.

    • profile image

      Arteclea 

      4 years ago

      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?

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