If I Owe Court Fees, Will They Take My Tax Return?

If I Owe Court Fees, Will They Take My Tax Return?
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If you fail to pay court fees that you owe to a court for a trial you participated in, or for any other reason, the court may be able to appeal to your state tax commission requesting them to withhold your tax refund check. It depends on whether or not your state has passed a law allowing the courts to intercept your refund check. If your refund check can legally be used to pay for your court fees, you will be left with little recourse when such actions occur. However, acquiring a thorough knowledge of your state's legal statutes will allow you to properly assess what options you may have if and when such an event occurs.


  • Depending on the state you live in, you may be required to forfeit a portion of your tax return to compensate for unpaid court fees.

Exploring Court Fees

If you are arrested or sued, or if you sue someone else, there is a cost of going to court. Most courts charge fees that vary based on the type and length of your trial. Fees are used to offset the cost to the federal, state or local government where the trial is held. The fees you pay to your attorney are separate from court fees.

Tax Intercept Programs

Many states now have tax intercept programs that allow the court to go directly to the state tax commission and request that your tax refund check be withheld to pay for any court costs you owe that are in arrears. For example, North Dakota allows the courts to take your state tax refund if you are behind on your court fees by 90 days or more. California courts can take your state tax return and any state lottery winnings you have won to pay for late court fees. You will need to check with your state to see if they have a tax intercept program if you are concerned about them taking your refund.

Federal Tax Returns

Current federal law restricts the withholding of federal tax refunds, called a tax refund offset, to paying only for certain narrowly defined debts. Any such withholding is done by the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Management Service. Congress has authorized the U.S. Department of Treasury to manage the federal Treasury Offset Program. This program allows the Department of Treasury to withhold all or part of your federal tax refund to pay money you owe for state and federal taxes, certain federal debts, or unpaid child support if the debt has been has been filed with the Financial Management Service.