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Will the IRS Take My Stimulus Money if I Owe Back Taxes?

Find out if your payment could be affected by unpaid child support, overdrawn back accounts and other existing debt

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En español | The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it will not garnish stimulus checks for back taxes. It will, however, take money from your payment if you're behind on child support.

States have to report individuals who owe child support to the federal Treasury Offset Program (TOP), which collects state and federal debts aside from income tax debts. The CARES Act, which authorized the coronavirus stimulus payments, allows TOP to collect delinquent child support obligations. It can take your entire stimulus check, up to the amount that you owe.

If you're married to someone who owes child support (and you don't), you can file an injured spouse form. This can allow you to keep the portion of the stimulus that doesn't belong to your spouse.

"Injured spouse relief may be available when Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, is filed to get back a portion of a joint refund when the joint overpayment is applied to a past-due obligation of the other spouse,” says Susan Allen, senior manager for tax practice and ethics at the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants. “Taxpayers don't need to wait until they file their next tax return to file a Form 8379. Thus, if a taxpayer thinks he or she is entitled to injured spouse relief and therefore should receive an economic stimulus payment, he or she should go ahead and file the form."

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The CARES Act calls for no other specific offsets to the stimulus checks. And it grants some relief to those whose Social Security retirement payments are being garnished for other reasons, such as delinquent student loan debt or food stamp overpayments. Those offsets will be suspended through Sept. 21.

Unfortunately, if you're overdrawn at your bank, the bank may well be able to take what you owe from your stimulus payment. Some large banks, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have said they won't do that, but other banks may. And if you have private creditors with court garnishment orders, those creditors may get to grab your funds.

“As the Treasury Department disburses these emergency payments, AARP is concerned that creditors and debt collectors may attempt to garnish all or part of these funds and prevent many Americans from purchasing the basic necessities they need. We are already seeing troubling reports in the news media highlighting this unfortunate reality,” said Bill Sweeney, AARP’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, in an April 21 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“In response, AARP notes separate letters from 25 State Attorneys General and 5 major banking organizations urging you and Congress to take actions to ensure stimulus payments are exempt from garnishment from creditors and debt collectors. AARP shares these concerns and respectfully urges you to use your authority under the CARES Act to that end. With 22 million Americans now out of work because of the coronavirus, we must ensure that the emergency payments provided under the CARES Act are used to help Americans buy the food, medicine, housing and basic essentials they need to survive.”