Many people look forward to tax season because they expect a refund of some or all the taxes they paid throughout the year. However, if you owe money to the IRS or certain other creditors, the IRS might withhold part or all of your refund to satisfy your debt. This process is called tax refund offset. In most cases, you will get any leftover refund as quickly as you would get your whole refund. However, if you filed a joint return and your spouse owes the debt, you must apply for the refund and wait 11 to 14 weeks.
When you file your taxes, the IRS checks whether you owe it any money for back taxes. If you do, the IRS deducts the amount you owe from your refund. It then processes any leftover refund the same way it would process your entire refund if you did not owe back taxes and sends you the refund within the time frame listed on its refund cycle chart.
Once you submit your tax return, it takes the IRS approximately 72 hours to process the return, check for back taxes and determine the amount of your refund. After 72 hours have passed, you can contact the IRS by phone or online to determine how much of a refund you are going to get and when you can expect it. If the IRS takes any portion of your refund to satisfy a past tax obligation, it also sends you a notice in the mail to inform you how much it is taking and why.
If you file a joint tax return and your spouse owes money to the IRS, the IRS may seize the joint refund to pay her debt. If you do not owe the debt -- it was only your spouse's -- you can claim your portion of the refund by filing Form 8379. If you live in a community property state, you must provide additional information to prove the debt was not yours. It takes approximately 11 to 14 weeks to receive your refund after you file Form 8379.
Even if you do not owe money to the IRS, the IRS may take a portion of your refund if you default on child support, spousal support or student loans. In addition, your state may take part of your refund if you owe money to it for back taxes. If you receive a notice that the IRS has seized part of your refund and you were not aware you owed money, contact the IRS immediately.
Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.