Community colleges could garnish tax refunds for student debts

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If you owe money to a community college in Mississippi, you might not want to bank on receiving your state tax refund.

A tax garnishment bill for individuals who owe tuition debt to community colleges in the state passed the Mississippi House of Representatives this week by a 104 to 14 vote.

“Right now, colleges are almost owed an estimate of $98  million from students who previously attended the institution,” Kell Smith, a spokesman for the Mississippi Community College Board, said at Friday’s board meeting.

Smith explained that the community colleges may not take back all that is owed to them, but now they may have the option to begin collecting – the same option that four-year schools have.

When the bill came to the floor for a vote, some members seemed concerned that the bill could punish students who owe for non-educational fees such as parking tickets.

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Jason White, R-West.

Rep. Jason White, R-West, who sponsored the bill, said only educational fees would be subject to garnishment. He added that the legislation would allow the colleges to work with the Department of Revenue on collecting any tax garnishments on the wages of former students that owe the community college more than $25.

“You don’t default today and a lien is put on your tax refund tomorrow,” White said during floor debate.

Now the bill will be considered by the Senate, Smith said.