So you filed your tax return expecting a nice refund and then nothing comes back. You go to the IRS “Where’s my Refund?” website and find a note that says your refund was held because of a prior tax debt—but you don’t have one. Turns out your beloved spouse owed back taxes from before you were married. Is there anything you can do?
Yes, there is. You may be able to file for Injured Spouse Relief.
How do you know if you qualify as an injured spouse? First, you must have made and reported tax payments. That means you either had income tax withheld from wages or you made estimated tax payments, or you claimed a refundable tax credit like the Earned Income Tax credit. Second, you must not be legally obligated to pay the past-due amount. For example, you weren’t married to your spouse when he or she incurred the debt.
Are there any kinds of debt besides federal income tax that can cause my refund to be taken? Your refund can be taken for state income tax, child or spousal support, or federal student loans.
Note: if you live in a community property state, there are special rules. If you’re in one of those states, you’ll need to see IRS Pub 55.
If you filed a joint return and you are not responsible for your spouse’s debt, you may request your portion of the refund by filing the Injured Spouse Allocation form, Form 8379.
If you haven’t filed yet, you can submit form 8379 along with your tax return. If you’ve already filed and received a federal offset notification, you can submit a form 8379 by itself. You can e-file the 8379 when it’s submitted with a return. If you’re sending in a paper tax return (okay, you know you should be e-filing whenever possible) then you need to write “INJURED SPOUSE” at the top left corner of your 1040.
If you’re filing the 8379 by itself; make sure that you list both spouses’ social security numbers in the same order as they appeared on your income tax return. I know this sounds kind of silly but it’s really important to put the social security numbers in the right order. You might be thinking that the spouse that’s injured should have his/her name on the top, but put your names in the same order as on the tax return.
How Come the Injured Spouse Allocation Form doesn’t tell you how much you’ll get back? Good question, but it doesn’t. The IRS will determine how much of your refund you will receive. Part of the issue is that allocation for couples from the community property states will be different from couples who aren’t in community property states.
How long will it take me to get my refund after I file an injured spouse claim? It’s going to be slower than a regular refund. If you e-file a form 8379 along with your federal return, it will take about 11 weeks to process. If you mail your return in your refund will take around 14 weeks. If your tax return was already file and you’re sending in an Injured Spouse Allocation by itself, expect the IRS to take about 8 weeks to process it.
Am I better off just filing separately? Sometimes, yes. But if you qualify for any of the tax credits that aren’t allowed to couples who file separately then the Injured Spouse Allocation is your best choice despite the delay to your refund.
Here are some links that might help:
How to find free tax preparers: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers
How to find your local IRS office: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1