Home > Students > Help! My Tax Refund Was Taken to Pay My Student Loan Debt

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Many people have already filed their taxes this year — particularly those owed refunds. Because of rising taxpayer identity theft, it’s a smart idea for anyone to file quickly. However, some taxpayers are discovering the refund they thought was coming has instead has been taken to pay their student loan debt. Here’s a sample of questions recently sent to Credit.com:

  • From Amber: Is there anything i can do to stop my whole federal refund from going to my student loans? … I’ve just set up a payment plan, but I really need my refund this year.
  • From Peggy: I was looking forward to my tax refund as it will help with bills and much needed things for the baby. It was accepted and … now after digging around I found out they are sending it to the U.S. Dept. of Ed. for my student loans which I thought were in deferment. Now this is causing me and my kids a hardship but they refuse to send me the refund… What can I do to get my refund owed to me?
  • From Luis: I heard that if your student loan is in default and they are intercepting your taxes, It goes towards interest of the loan. Getting your loan out of default you can then get the intercepted (money) back. Is this true? Is there some info on this?

First, some background: If you are in default on your federal student loans (which by definition means you are behind by 270 days or more), the Department of Education can take your tax refund using the Treasury Offset Program. This program authorizes federal payments such as tax refunds or Social Security income to be intercepted in whole or in part to pay debts owed to other federal agencies. There are some limited consumer protections, but debtors aren’t always aware of them.

What Can You Do if Your Refund Was Seized?

We spoke with Jay Fleischman, a student loan and bankruptcy attorney, about what people can do. First, he said that by federal law, people who have student loans in default get a notice in advance warning that they are at risk of having any potential tax refund seized for student loan repayment. That notice contains instructions for a review of your loan information and how to avoid the offset.

If your refund is taken, you can still request a hearing. If it was taken in error, the money will be refunded. However, be aware that an error does not generally include not getting a notice; it typically would require that you be able to prove your student loan was not in default. (There is a case where you will likely get a refund; more about that in a moment.)

Fleischman said it’s a good idea to adjust your withholdings whether you’re subject to a tax refund offset of not. A large tax refund means you overpaid your taxes during the year, he notes. If you are in default on your federal student loans you probably need that money. But at this point, there is nothing you can do to change the overwithholding from last year. Still, revisiting how much you’re having withheld for taxes is a smart move for anyone who got a large refund.

The bigger problem is how you are going to deal with the default on your student loans from now on. You’ll want to get out of default and stay that way. Fortunately, there are many payment options; you should be able to make one work for you. In some cases, income-based repayment payments can be set as low as $0. And “if your circumstances are dire and expected to remain so,” bankruptcy and the discharge of student loans might be options, Fleischman said.

The one case in which you are likely to be able to recover the money is if you filed jointly with a spouse, and it was his or her student loan that was in default. “You may be able to make an injured spouse claim,” said Fleischman.

For most, what is done is done. The best thing you can do is to look ahead. And if you haven’t filed your tax return and expect a large refund, you may want to see what options you have to get out of default first. Being in default on a student loan can not only squeeze your budget, it can hurt your credit and cost you thousands of dollars in higher debt costs over a lifetime. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated every month, on Credit.com to track your standing.

[Offer: If you’re worried about errors on your credit reports and you don’t want to go it alone, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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  • Chris Hunter

    my refund was far more then i owe on my student loans it shows on the website my loans are paid in full. when or will i get the money back? my refund was for 6300 and i owed 4300!

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Please contact the Internal Revenue Service to find that out. Yes, you should receive a partial refund once the debt was satisfied.

  • Kim Myers

    My taxes were used several years ago to pay off student loan debt. Since it’s paid off am I now eligible for more student aid if I return to school?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      If you got out of default you may be eligible again for federal student aid.

  • Lisa Hirsch

    Our tax overpayment was offset for an old student loan of just mine. It has since been discharged due to disability. How can my husband get his refund now that it is discharged?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      According to the Department of Education, “Federal tax refunds payable to joint filing couples are subject to offset, as explained in the notice, but that portion of the refund owed to the non-debtor spouse can be recovered by that individual by filing an “injured spouse” claim with the IRS.” I’ll have to suggest you talk with a tax professional for additional information.

  • felecia h.

    My tax refund was taken away because they said I attendance school and I have never been enrolled in school I don’t even have a GED or highschool diploma so how can I get them to refund me my tax refund back

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      We consulted “The Student Loan Lawyer” Joshua Cohen and he told us you are either a victim of identity theft or visited a trade school that had you sign forms for loans without your realizing. He suggests that you contact a local attorney. You can read more about identity theft here:
      What Should I Do If I’m a Victim Of Identity Theft

  • K. Lee

    I attended an Institute in 1988 for a month. I dropped out because there were no teachers available and we were just sitting there every day mingling. The school has closed because the staff was mishandling funds. I was only 17 when I signed the student loan. I have been trying to request a Loan Forgiveness but they keep denying it. I have requested information from The Department of Education but they have no record of me attending the school. So why am I responsible? Can you please suggest anything?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Is this a private or federal student loan? I assume you have checked the National Student Loan Data System to see if it is there…? Is your tax refund being offset?

      • K. Lee

        It’s a federal student loan. No I haven’t checked the SLDS. Is there a specific website for it? I received a letter stating it will be offset.

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          It’s the National Student Loan Data System – should come up in a search.

          I would suggest you talk with a consumer law attorney with experience in student loan law. What state do you live in?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Jenni – IIt’s hard to say. It’s possible it was applied to some kind of penalty or interest, or that it was misapplied. Given the amount of money involved, I would suggest you get advice from a professional familiar with student loan law. You should be able to get a free or low-cost consultation that should help you decide how to proceed. Visit the websites of The Student Loan Lawyer and/or the National Association of Consumer Advocates if you need help locating one.

  • Amanda

    My husband and I attended a college that was shut down. We quit attending this online college because we seemed to have better communication plans than the teachers. Also, we had a child. We had major life events and moves happen and fell into default. Due to an accident, he has been out of work and I am the only working member. 15% of my check is taken for default and our FULL tax refund was taken.
    My husband attempted to call and see if there was anything we could do; however, was unsuccessful in getting help. We also cannot afford to start student loan forgiveness as what’s left of our paycheck is spent on bills. We live very scarce and have went through numerous hardships at this point and are in the point of desperation. I just read where we can file for injured spouse claim. I’ve tried to look up the information before but was unable to locate. Is it too late to file this for this years taxes? Is this something I would possibly qualify for being the only working member?
    I’m very eager for helpful guidance.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      There is usually not a way to get a refund that was seized back, unless it was improperly taken. When you say you and your husband attended college there, did you also have federal loans or just your husband? You can find the forms here: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Form-8379,–Injured-Spouse-Allocation

      • Amanda

        We both had federal loans.

        • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

          Amanda – By law you are supposed to get advance notice that your tax refund will be seized to offset a defaulted student loan, and that is supposed to give you the opportunity to challenge the offset. It sounds like you have a much bigger problem here, in that you can’t get your loan out of default. I would encourage you to talk to a student loan counselor to find out what your options are. This help through reputable counseling agencies is low-cost, and may be free if you can’t afford to pay.

    • Lewis

      I noticed you said school closed did you withdraw as well if so you can apply for a closed school discharge the forms are on nslds website also u can check there if the school that closed is on the list if it is then u would encourage you to fill the form out and get it back to them to review and possibly discharge it.

  • Marissa Rodriguez

    Can anyone please help? I’ve tried desperately to find out what I still owe on my student loans. I had my refund taken away this year and I didn’t know because I guess the address they had was my old one, it wasn’t until I filed my taxes that I received the letter stating I wasn’t getting my refund. I want to avoid that from happening next year, but I don’t understand what I owe??? And unfortunately I lost that letter and didn’t read much into it since I read the part where I wasn’t going to get my money and got upset. I checked with Sallie Mae, my account got moved to Navient which stated my accounts were paid in full. But I checked nslds.ed.gov it’s showing my loans are defaulted and it’s showing the interest for this year but I really don’t understand it, then I check my credit reports it shows the loans were paid as well. I just really want to know if my refund was actually applied to my student loans

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      The NSLDS is definitely the place to go but if it’s confusing to you then I’d suggest you take advantage of two resources. The first is the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman to try to clarify the status of your loans and what happened to your refund. The second would be a counseling agency with expertise in student loans who can help you get back on track if you still owe a balance (which it sounds like it may be the case) Find a student loan counselor here.

      • Christopher Crandall

        Hello, I have recently got my loan out of default. I also qualified for deferment. But, do I have to worry about them taking my tax refund?

        • Jeanine Skowronski

          You may want to ask a tax accountant about whether this is a possibility.

          Thank you,

          Jeanine

  • Nicole

    HI! i’ve had some economic hardship and my private student loan is now in default. I have a co-signer whom i expressed my hardship and inability to pay in full each month. My co-signer decided to say that she will not help or accept financial responsibility for the loan. Long story short, the loan has now defaulted. Navient is now saying they MAY be garnishing my wages, property leins etc. CAn Navient do these things for a Private Loan?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      For private loans, you must be sued and a judgment must be issued before they can attempt to garnish wages, seize bank accounts etc…Please read: Defaulting on Private Vs Federal Student Loans

      Your cosigner may also be at risk. It’s not clear whether she knows that or not.

  • Liz Rivera

    I need help!!! The company who is garnishing my wages continues to lose my paperwork, I am trying to have them give back the loan to me but I haven’t had no luck. I would like to consolidate my and my husbands loans but the creditors keep losing my paperwork. I would also like to know if they’re taking money from my wages and IRS shouldn’t both parties contact or communicate with each other. I’ve given money to both monthly and tax return for the last three years. How can I go about resolving the paperwork issue. Can I seek a lawyer for Mishandling personal information.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Liz – I would definitely recommend you consult a consumer protection attorney with experience in student loan problems. You can find one through these websites: National Association of Consumer Advocates or The Student Loan Lawyer.com.

      If they can help you let us know.

  • Kiki

    I can not afford to pay back my loans at all :( So I dont mind the offset as I figured it would help me pay back my loan with money I wouldn’t really “miss” since it’s not from my paycheck. My issue is, they have taken thousands in the last few years but my balance on the loans has not lowered at all! Where is this money going if it’s being taken for the loans? My loans are the only thing I owe, and I have no other debts.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I can understand why you don’t want to deal with this, but staying in default means you’ll probably never make a dent in these balances. Have you tried to find out if you qualify for Income-Based or Income-Contingent Repayment? You may be able to get your payments down to a very minimal level, rehabilitate your loans and stop the tax refund interception. If you are having trouble navigating this on your own you may want to talk with an attorney with experience in student loan law or a non-profit organization that offers student loan counseling.

    • Kiki

      I just don’t understand how the balance of my loans is $6,000 plus $300 yearly added for interest. My refunds are usually around $5000 because I have s child and below poverty level income. That’s over $20,000 I’ve had offset and yet, my balance never gets lower. I just don’t understand how that is possible even with interested added. I can not afford an attorney or to pay back anything that’s why I didn’t mind the offsets. I would just like to know where this money is going and how to find out because every year I get the letter and every year my refund is taken but I am constantly being harassed by the loan company to pay it back also, so where is my money going and who do I call to find out??? Calling the number on the letter only says that your refund will be taken for the dept of education but that’s it.

      • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

        @kiki –

        Your loans are currently in default correct? You need to get them out of default and get into an income-based repayment plan so you can keep your tax refunds. Under one of these programs, your payments may be as little as zero if you qualify, and it sounds like you may.

        You can talk with a non-profit counseling agency that provides student loan assistance. The cost will be minimal and they may waive fees if you can’t afford it. Here’s how to find a student loan counselor. I can’t encourage you enough to get some assistance with this situation. It must be incredibly stressful.

    • Jeff

      Once the loan goes into defalt sometimes the loans get sold. I know someone that made many payments only to find out the loan was sold to another agency. She could not get any of the money back. Years later a collections agency called, the loan had been sold to them ( original amount of the loan) Fortunately years ago the collection agencies had seven years to collect the debt, it had been nine years, she paid the original agency and did not get and credit for what she had paid, but since nine years had passed the collections agency could noy collect. Laws have changed, no more limit on the amount of time to collect on a default loan. They can keep selling the loan for many years and not notify you that you are paying the wrong agency. Best advice never let a student loan go into default so that it gets turned over to collections agencies or you may never pay off the student loan.

  • Angela

    once the irs seized the amount due to pay off the student loan does that mean the default is no longer on your credit report??

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      No, not necessarily. Typically you must get out of default through a formal rehabilitation program. We wrote about that here:
      Will Student Loan Rehab Fix My Credit?

  • Chris

    My daughter, who is a single mom with 2 small children is not only having her tax returns garnished but also her wages. She does not even have enough for feeding her family. Is this legal? She had been making payments but her wages were garnished any way.

  • Alicia

    My taxes we’re taken from IRS to pay off my student loan, they took my whole refund over $8000 and now it states that I still owe $4065, meaning my student loan it’s at default but luckily i was able to get on income -based payment ($5 a month). to pay off the remaining of loan. Now my question is, will the IRS take my refund this year although I’m making monthly payments?. Also, I’m looking forward on going back to school to a community college and i was told that after six consecutive payments i was able to apply for financial aid, Now will my remaining of loan rollover with my new one and not affect my refund?.

    • Brian Madrid

      I’m in the same situation. I would like to know as well.

  • Rebecca Quintana

    I recently noticed I defaulted on my student loans in August. I recently also got a advance on my taxes. I have not received a letter of taxes being withheld. How do I keep that from happening. If I call to rehabilitate my loan can they still take my federal taxes?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi, Rebecca,

      You may want to consult a consumer attorney or a tax accountant to find out the likelihood of this happening.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

  • Shelby park

    If your taxes are withheld will it positively effect your credit score since the loan is getting paid?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      The tax lien can significantly hurt your credit score, so your score may not improve even if the loans are not getting paid, at least in the short-term.Generally, it takes seven years for negative information to age completely off of your credit report.

      Best,

      Jeanine

  • Jeanine Skowronski

    You may want to consult a tax accountant, CPA, CFP or tax attorney about your best recourse here.

    Thank you,

    Jeanine

  • Tabitha

    I just found out my student loan is in default/offset. I was in prison so they couldn’t contact me and I had no way of knowing/contacting them.
    I am also disabled but working on getting disability. I have no income but my husband does. We are married but not together.
    With all this, am I able to challenge the offset so they don’t take my husbands refund? (he put me on his taxes).

    • http://blog.credit.com/ Kali Geldis

      Hi Tabitha —

      Unfortunately, by filing jointly the IRS may be able to take some of your husband’s refund (it’s really his refund and your refund) in order to pay the debt. You can file separately in order to avoid this, though you may want to consult a tax professional before filing to understand the specifics.

  • Seth

    Hi ive been on a payment plan with edpca coast professional for some months now I wanted to know if I could recieve my tax return this year.

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      You may want to consult a tax professional to determine if you are eligible.

      Thank,

      Jeanine

  • Sheena Schweinefus

    My question is that almost $4000 got taken from my taxes last year. Ive cleared it since then but I was wondering, can I put that i paid that on this year’s taxes??

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi, Sheena,

      You may want to consult a tax accountant regarding your best course of action.

      Thanks,

      Jeanine

  • Angel

    I owe money to financial aid, will this affect my tax return?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      I believe it depends on what you owe exactly and whether you are in default or not, but you may want to consult a tax attorney or tax accountant about your specific case.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

  • Anonyomous

    My tax refund as well as others that I know is set to be offset, we didn’t receive any type of notice or anything. So what does that mean, how can we challenge that?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      You may want to consult a tax accountant or consumer attorney about your best recourse.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

  • CeeCee

    My school loans are in offset and I’ve been trying to figure out who to call to get them out of default… I’ve been reading that you can challenge an offset if you are totally or permanently disabled… I have been disabled and receiving disability for 6 years now, but I still work…. Does that mean I’m not technically disabled?? Should I try to challenge the offset??

  • Whitney

    I havent gotten any notification on my tax refund yet but I checked it out myself and noticed that they were taken for my loan agency(I’m sure). I before hand set up a payment plan with National Student Aid Care for my loans. Is there a way I can prove that to receive my whole tax refund and not be taken away from me???

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      You may want to consult a tax accountant or attorney about your best recourse.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

  • Jeanine Skowronski

    You may want to consult a tax attorney or tax accountant about your claim.

    Thank you,

    Jeanine

  • nebbie

    I first hand from experience that you can get your taxes back from offset for student loans. It took me 5 and half months to get it, and it was not ALL of the taxes, but I endured through the slow process, they told me I must prove of financial hardship by sending eviction notices, past due bills, pay check studs, proof of public assistance, everything you have for proof!!! Call the dept of Ed or whatever entity mine was FMS. They will mail you a form and give complete details on what to send back. Getting back your taxes won’t happen overnight it took me months, they were also garnishing my wages, once the process was approved the garnish did stop.

    • Tonya YayYo Having Lee

      Hey Nebbie so upon calling what do I need to ask for to get some of my money back

    • Muffins B

      Is the paper needed to be asked for a hardship paper? Mine was taken and even if it’s only a portion anything is better than nothing. I’m a single mother of 2 children under age 10 and I was counting on that refund. I am on the rehabilitation program and have made my 5.00 payments on time. Yet they still took my taxes. I qualify for 0.00 a month after the 9 consecutive months of 5.00. So apparently they already know I can’t afford much. Lol.

      • Jeanine Skowronski

        You may want to consult a consumer attorney about your best recourse.

        Thank you,

        Jeanine

  • Sara A Brown

    My school took my federal income tax, whuch i thought may happen… but does it stop the other federal credits I have coming as well? Like the EITC or the CTC?

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      You may want to ask a tax accountant what other credits may be subject to the levy.

      Thanks,

      Jeanine

  • Marcia

    Last year, my refund was taken to offset my remaining student loan debt. Some of that went toward the interest. Can I use that when I am filing my taxes? I have not received any forms yet but every year I do get a form (can’t remember the name of it) but I usually get it till close to April.

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      You may want to consult a tax accountant about your options here.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

  • Roc

    This just happened to me. I lost my job, and I am receiving unemployment checks. I was planning on using my 1,020 dollar income tax return to catch up on my mortgage so I don’t lose my house and now I am screwed. This is why good people commit crimes.

  • Jake

    My refund was absorbed by the department of ed , not much about $600. But im looking around at my loans trying to figure out where exactly it went. I am in default and in about $5100 of debt towards student loans. And it doesn’t look like the $600 affected anything. Is there a report i can get sent to me showing exactly where this money went? because right now, about 2 months later i havent seen any change in debt.

  • maria

    i am going thru the same thing i find out that my tax return was taken by default student loan. i still have not received any notice they were taken but i went ahead and check at irs. website and staids that my taxes were taken by a agency. so i contacted them and they explained that my taxes were taking due to a default student loan. so i asked them if they is anyway that they can give me at least part of that amount they said that there is nothing to do. so i call the agency that i have default student loan and they help me set up payment plan. i have set up payment plan, but i really need the money and i dont know if by just making a payment plan will help. could you advise?

  • Ginna

    If I was on a payment plan. I don’t understand why they would still take all of my tax money. I guess I have more payments to make until I’m out of default , which they could have just told me that and work something out instead of beating around the bush .

  • shanon

    submit an injured spouse form. It will take 8 weeks but you will get your money back.

  • Jeanine Skowronski

    You may want to consult a tax accountant or tax attorney to learn of your best recourse.

    Thank you,

    Jeanine

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