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How to stop student loan tax garnishment

What you can do to make sure you get that tax refund, even if you've defaulted.

One of the consequences of falling behind on your federal student loan repayments is that you might not get a tax refund. And if you’re married, it could also affect your spouse. However, if you’re truly struggling with your personal finances, there are some steps you can take to challenge a tax refund garnishment.

When can the government garnish my refund over student loans?

The government can garnish your tax refund after any federal debt goes into default, including student loans. Your loans are in default when you’re more than 270 days late on repayments. Depending on how much you owe and the size of your refund, the government might withhold part or all of your refund.

The government won’t garnish your tax refund if you’re late on private student loans — though you can face other consequences like having your loans go into collections and damaging your personal credit.

How do I know if I have a tax refund offset for student loans?

The Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) will send you a notice of offset at least 65 days before your taxes are due — usually in the fall. The notice should tell you:

  • Your original tax refund amount.
  • How much it’s withholding.
  • The agency that’s receiving the offset.
  • The agency’s contact information.

How can I stop the government from taking my taxes due to student loans?

Once you receive a notice of offset, you have 65 days to request a review of your account. You might be able to successfully challenge your tax offset if:

  • You already repaid your student loans.
  • You’re currently making repayments based on a repayment agreement.
  • They’re someone else’s loans mistakenly under your name.
  • You’re currently going through bankruptcy proceedings.
  • Your loans were discharged during bankruptcy.
  • Your loans are eligible for discharge due to death, disability, school closure, identity theft or your school not following federal law when issuing your loans.
  • You’re facing financial hardship.

You can challenge your tax offset by submitting the Treasury Offset Request for Review form or contacting the BFS’s call center at 800-304-3107. Customer service is available on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT.

You also might want to reach out to your student loan servicer to learn about the procedure for disputing your garnishment — especially if you’re facing financial hardship.

How to fill out the tax offset hardship refund request form

If you believe you’re eligible for an exemption from a tax offset due to financial hardship, reach out to your servicer to request a form to complete and submit. You might be eligible for an exemption if:

  • You ran out of unemployment benefits. Submit a notice showing that you’re no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, despite not having a job.
  • You’re facing foreclosure. Submit a notice issued by a court in the past three months that states how much you owe.
  • You’re facing eviction. Submit an eviction notice in the past three months from your rental agency or the mortgage holder of your building that’s signed by an official and states how much you owe.
  • Your utilities have been shut off. Submit a notice from your utility company in the past three months that states your utilities have been disconnected or shut off and how much you owe.
  • You’re homeless. Your servicer might ask you to provide a temporary address to get in touch with you until you have permanent contact information available.

Typically, you just need to provide your contact information, Social Security number and check off which type of exemption you qualify for. Once you’ve signed and dated the request, follow your servicer’s instructions to submit the form and all relevant documents either by mail, fax or email.

It can take up to 30 days for your servicer to process your request. If approved, you still might not get your full refund, depending on the specifics of your financial situation. You can only get approved for a tax offset hardship refund once.

Will my spouse’s tax refund be affected?

It’s possible for your spouse’s tax refund to also get garnished if you’re married and file a joint tax return. However, you can prevent this by submitting IRS Form 8379, also known as the Injured Spouse Allocation Form. You can either submit this along with your tax returns or your spouse can submit it after separately.

4 more ways marriage affects your student loan repayments.

6 ways to avoid a student loan tax offset

If you think you might be in danger of falling behind on your federal student loan repayments, there are several steps you can take to prevent tax refund garnishment.

1. Stay on top of repayments

Making sure you repay your student loans on time is key to avoiding default, and therefore a tax offset. You can make this easier by signing up for autopay through your servicer — typically this comes with a 0.25% interest rate discount.

You also might want to consider making a budget for yourself if you’re having trouble coming up with the funds when they’re due.

2. Stay in touch with your servicer

Your servicer is the company that handles student loan repayments. It might have ideas for how you can stay current on your student loans that you wouldn’t have found on your own.

If you’re struggling with repayments — or think you might in the future — reach out to customer service to find out what your options are.

3. Apply for deferment or forbearance

Temporarily short on funds? Federal loans come with several options to put your student loans on hold to avoid default. It’s a helpful option if you’re going back to school, recently lost a job, are going on active military duty or are going through a short-term period where money is tight.

4. Switch repayment plans

Struggling with repayments with no end in sight? Consider changing your repayment plan. Federal student loans come with several different options, including a few income-driven repayment plans based on how much you make to ensure your repayments are something you can afford.

5. Consider consolidation

Already defaulted? You can wipe the slate clean by applying for a federal Direct Consolidation Loan. This involves taking out a new student loan to pay off your current loans, including those you’ve defaulted on. You’ll get to choose a new repayment plan, servicer and get an interest rate that’s a weighted average of the rates you already have.

6. Get student loan rehabilitation

Another way to get out of default is to apply for student loan rehabilitation. Rehabilitation involves agreeing to make nine repayments over 10 months that are no more than 20 days late. How much you pay depends on your income.

You can get started on rehabilitating your federal student loans by reaching out to your servicer.

Bottom line

One of the consequences of defaulting on your student loans is losing your tax refund. But there are several ways to get some or all of that refund back if you’re facing serious financial problems. And if you stay on top of your loans, there are steps you can take to prevent the BFS from sending that tax offset notice in the first place.

Want to learn more about how it all works? Check out our guide to student loans or our article on ways student loans can affect your taxes.

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