Refund Offsets

Your tax return may show you’re due a refund from the IRS. However, if you owe a federal tax debt from a prior tax year, or a debt to another federal agency, or certain debts under state law, the IRS may keep (offset) some or all your tax refund to pay your debt.

What kinds of debts might be offset?

  • Past-due federal tax;
  • State income tax;
  • State unemployment compensation debts;
  • Child support;
  • Spousal support; and
  • Federal nontax debt, like student loans.

The IRS makes offsets for past due federal taxes. All other offsets are handled by the Treasury Department's Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS), previously known as the Financial Management Service (FMS). For federal tax offsets, you’ll get an IRS notice. For all other offsets, the notice will come from BFS.

If the offset paid a federal tax debt

  • If you don't believe you owe the IRS, call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 (or TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059) for more information or assistance in resolving the debt.

If the offset paid a non-federal debt

  • If you need more information on the offset, contact the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) toll-free at 1-800-304-3107 (or TTY/TDD 1-866-297-0517) to find out where Treasury applied your tax refund.
  • If you believe you don’t owe a debt to another agency or have questions about it, contact the agency that received your tax refund as shown in your notice.
  • If part of your tax refund offset to a non-federal debt, but you didn't receive the remainder of your refund, it may have offset to pay a federal tax debt.  If this happened, contact the IRS to resolve the discrepancy.

If you didn't get an offset notice

  • If you didn’t get a notice about an offset but your tax refund is smaller than you expected, call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 (or TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059).

If you filed a joint tax return, you may be entitled to part or all the refund offset if your spouse is solely responsible for the debt. To request your part of the tax refund, file IRS Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation.

If your tax refund was offset to pay a joint federal tax debt and you believe only your spouse or former spouse should be held responsible for all or part of the balance due, you should request relief from the liability.

  • To request relief, file IRS Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. The instructions for Form 8857 have helpful directions.
  • The IRS will use the information you provide on IRS Form 8857, and any additional documentation you submit, to determine if you’re eligible for relief.

Browse common tax issues and situations at Get Help.

If your IRS problem is causing you financial hardship, you've tried repeatedly and aren't receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights aren't being respected, consider contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent (EA) associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC). LITCs also provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language.

Last modified December 19, 2018