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How to stop child support from taking tax refund

Falling behind on any payment is never a good thing. But falling behind on child support payments can have ramifications on your finances — it can even impact your tax refund. This article discusses what you can do if you think your tax refund is at risk of getting taken due to past-due child support.

What happens to my tax refund if I owe child support

If your child support arrears (the amount of money you owe for child support) reaches a certain threshold, your state government may reach out to the federal government to intercept your tax return and apply it to your child support debt. This program is known as the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program.
The federal standard threshold for interception varies by situation:

  • If the child’s custodial parent is on public assistance under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, then the non-custodial parent’s tax return may be intercepted if they owe $150.00 or more in past-due child support.
  • If the child’s custodial parent is not on TANF, then the non-custodial parent’s tax refund may be intercepted if they owe $500.00 or more.

Different states may have different thresholds of interception, so be sure to check the details for your state.
Of course, if the non-custodial parent is not getting a tax refund, then there are no funds to intercept.

What to do if you think your tax refund may be at risk

The only sure way to stop child support from taking your tax refund is to make sure your child support arrears are below the threshold of interception or pay off your past-due support completely.

If you don’t have the money to do this, you may want to try the following:

  • Come to a joint agreement with the custodial parent: both parents can come together and mutually agree to adjust the child support conditions, which can give the noncustodial parent a chance to catch up on payments. To do this, both parents will have to file the new agreement with the court and have it reviewed. This process can take some time, so it is best to start early.
  • Reach out to a debt reduction program: in some states, there are specific programs to help people pay off debts, including child support arrears. These programs may be able to help you get under the threshold, or at the very least, help you navigate the court filings.
  • Roll over a child tax credit: the government cannot take your 2021 child tax credit for child support. You can elect to roll over your child tax credit to pay your arrears.

What to do if you get a pre-offset notice

If you cannot pay down your arrears early, your state’s child support office will submit a request to the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program to intercept your refund. You will get a “pre-offset notice” about this 60 days before it happens. Once you get this notice, there is not much you can do to stop your refund from being taken. However, you may be able to take some actions in court to get your refund back.

  • Appeal the withholding: If you get a notice from the Bureau of Fiscal Services (BFS), but you believe you have already paid down your arrears, you can appeal the withholding. To do this, you will need to get in touch with the agency that filed the initial interception request.
  • File a court order to prevent the offset: If you have received a notice from the BFS and have not paid down your arrears, you may be able to file a petition to the court system and ask a local judge to prohibit the offset. If you try this approach, you will need a strong justification for why you should be able to have your tax refund, such as needing to pay tuition for a program that will help you get a job afterward.

How to prevent my spouse’s portion of a tax return from being intercepted

If you are filing jointly with your spouse and you owe child support, then your spouse’s tax return may also be offset to pay for it. To avoid this, you will need to file an injured spouse claim (IRS Form 8379). This is essentially your way of letting the federal government know that your spouse has nothing to do with the past-due child support and so shouldn’t be penalized.

You should do this well before you file your taxes to make sure the government has time to process your request. If the injured spouse claim is accepted, then the federal government will give a percentage of the refund back.

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