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Is it possible to claim part of a refund from your spouse?

Tax refunds can be a handy source of money for filers, but some will find their payment is being ‘offset’ to cover outstanding debts.

Can I claim a partial refund from a spouse?

This year the IRS is hoping to process tax returns and distribute refunds much more swiftly than it has been able to in recent years. In the past three tax seasons the tax agency has been beset by pandemic-related disruption and underfunding, but the IRS is once again aiming to get refunds out within 21 days of a return being filed.

For married couples expecting a refund, there may be an extra complication if one member of the couple has outstanding debts that may offset their shared refund.

The Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) can reduce the size of a refund to pay outstanding debts like child support, unpaid state income taxes, debts to federal agencies and other outstanding obligations.

The IRS website explains: “If your debt meets submission criteria for offset, BFS will reduce your refund as needed to pay off the debt you owe to the agency.”

Can I claim part of a refund being applied to a spouse’s debt?

If your spouse owes an outstanding past due debt for which you were not responsible, such as any of the examples above, you may be able to file a claim to separate your share of the refund.

However the requirements for this are very stringent and you must be able to prove that the debts were entirely unrelated to you.

The best way to establish your eligibility is to utilise the IRS’ Interactive Tax Assistant for partial refunds for a spouse.

How big is the average tax refund this year?

While the IRS is confident of speeding up the distribution process for tax refunds, it looks like this year’s payments will be lower than we have seen in recent years. As of 17 February, the tax agency reports that the average refund amount for 2023 is $3,140.

This represents a drop of around 11% on the same point in last year’s tax season, when the average refund payment was $3,536.

This is due in large part to the ending of various pandemic-era relief programs designed to support people financially. Tens of millions of Americans received the stimulus checks and the expanded Child Tax Credit in the form of a single end-of-year tax refund, upping the average refund size considerably.

To get you refund as quickly as possible, the IRS recommends completing your filing online and to selecting ‘direct deposit’ to receive the refund payment.