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Your Tax Return Could Be Seized for a Relative’s Debt to Government

For many middle-class Americans, their annual tax returns are an important part of their household budget. Larger purchases or home-improvements often hinge on how much a particular individual gets back from the government. However, this year, some Americans are receiving a letter instead that says their returns were intercepted for unpaid debts, some decades old.

According to The Washington Post the IRS is sending letters to “hundreds of thousands of taxpayers” taking “$1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year – $75 million of that on debts for more than 10 years.” This debt-collection push is the result of a part of the 2014 farm bill that erased the decade-long statute of limitations on government debts.

What makes this push so egregious is that many of the debts were incurred by relatives of the taxpayers whose refunds were seized. The Post details the story of Mary Grice whose mother Sadie received Social Security benefits after her husband’s death in 1960. According to the Treasury Department someone in the Grice family was overpaid in 1977 but, according to The Post, they aren’t even sure who it was. Still, Mary Grice had her return confiscated to pay down that almost 40 year-old debt.

Maine’s Portland Press-Herald details the story of James Fereira who received a one-time payment of almost $1000 in 1979. Apparently in his letter, the IRS said that “several attempts by the government to collect the debt had been unsuccessful.” Also, the letter suggested that this debt had already been explained to Fereira, but he hadn’t heard a single thing about it. His entire 2013 tax return—$741—was seized on behalf of the Social Security Administration.

While Grice has an attorney to fight the government, Fereira—who describes himself as “working poor”—can’t afford an attorney, especially when their returns are so small as to be only significant to those with lower incomes.


Photo By Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.