Have you filed your income tax returns? Expecting a refund? If so, then you’ve probably already planned how you’re going to use that money. Whether you plan to repair your home, pay off credit card bills, or buy a laptop is completely irrelevant if a debt collector takes away your tax refund. When that happens, all your financial plans go up in smoke.
And it happens.
But don’t lose heart! It’s not that bad. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows debt collectors to intercept your tax refund only under special circumstances. You just need to know what those circumstances are, and avoid them.
A debt collection agency can seize your federal tax refund under the following circumstances:
There are scenarios where the collection agency can’t snatch tax refunds, even if the above conditions apply. Some of them are:
Debt collectors can’t seize your tax refunds for credit card debt, medical debt, auto loan debt or any other debt because the law provides for many other avenues to collect such debts. Most commonly, debt collectors file a lawsuit against the debtor and obtain a judgment against him. Then they can levy a bank account, garnish wages or impose a lien on a property. Because they have so many options, federal law does not allow them to lay claim to income tax returns. If you’ve been sued for a loan default, find out what to do.
If a collection agency threatens to seize your tax refund for the aforementioned debts, they are lying. You should file a complaint against the debt collector at the Federal Trade Commission or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can also post a review against the collection agency at the website of the Better Business Bureau.
Usually, the IRS sends you a notice when they are trying to collect an income tax debt from you. However, sometimes the IRS hires collection agencies to collect tax debts, including Pioneer, Performant, Conserve, and CBE Group. Still, if you have doubts, contact the IRS for verification before making payments or providing any financial information.
A debt collection agency can’t seize your tax refund when you’re going through bankruptcy. However, the bankruptcy trustee can award your tax refund to your creditors.
If you have filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the trustee can request that the court intercept your tax refund and use it to pay off your debt. In chapter 7 bankruptcy, it’s still possible to use your entire tax refund, but there are ways to protect some of it from seizure.
Yes. They must inform you before they take the money. Just like the case of wage garnishment, collections agencies are required to inform you that they are going to seize your tax refund if you don’t pay your debt.
If a collections agency informs you that they are likely to snatch your tax refund, you can call the Treasury Offset Program's call center and get all the information you need to put up a fight. The best option is usually to pay your debts and avoid interception.
In normal circumstances, debt collectors can’t intercept or garnish your income tax refund. Even when you default on credit cards, creditors and debt collectors can’t take your income tax refund from Uncle Sam directly. They can levy your bank account or garnish your wages, however. The good news is that it’s not that easy.
To garnish your wage or levy your bank account, debt collection agencies first need to file a lawsuit against you. If you lose the lawsuit, or simply don’t contest it, the court will issue a judgment against you. In that case, the collection agency can either garnish your wages or levy your bank account.
If the collection agency decides to levy your bank account, then anything in your bank account is subject to the levy, including your tax refund.
When a debt collector receives a writ of garnishment against you from the court, they get the opportunity to snatch a portion of your income to pay off debt. That includes your tax refund.
The court sends the writ of garnishment to the collection agency, and they have to follow the order diligently to extract money from you. Usually, they do.
Don't worry. All hope is not lost. There are two steps you can take when a debt collector intercepts your tax refund. Let’s discuss them a little bit.
Per federal law, only 25% of your disposable income can be garnished. If debt collectors garnish more than 25% of your income, then you can bring the matter at the local court. Government agencies, including the IRS also can withhold your tax refund without giving attention to percentages, but they still can’t break federal and state law when garnishing your wage. If they do, you can challenge the garnishment in court. Just make sure you have a copy of your bank statements and paychecks, along with any other evidence you have to support your claim.
If you are unable to cover your basic family expenses due to tax refund garnishment, then try for hardship relief, which prevents the debt collection agencies, the IRS, or other government organizations from taking your tax refund.
Submit the IRS Form 433-A as soon as possible. Provide your current income and expenses on the form, and submit it with supporting documentation. Submit copies of bills and receipts to prove your expenses and verify your financial hardship.
There are a few steps you can take to protect your tax refunds from collections agencies. Make sure you take these steps to prevent one from trying to intercept your income tax refund.