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Highlights

Millions of federal taxpayers receive billions of dollars in income tax refunds every year. Many of these refunds are paid to taxpayers who owe money to the federal government or to their state or local government. The law allows certain types of debts to be collected through offsets of federal income tax refunds before payments are issued to taxpayers--in calendar year 2008, over $5 billion was deducted from income tax refunds and used instead to pay other federal agency nontax debt, state income tax debt, and overdue child support payments. Due in part to the current economic downturn and the financial problems of state and local governments, interest has grown in potential expansion of the refund offset program Congressional request, this letter's objectives are to describe (1) recent proposals to expand the refund offset program, and (2) challenges and design issues that would need to be addressed by policymakers and program administrators in the event of program expansion, including the implications of eliminating the current requirement that tax refund offsets for state income tax debts are allowed only when the affected taxpayer lives in the state seeking the offset.

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