This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Lori Prichard reporting
produced by Kelly JustSALT LAKE CITY — If you owe money to a government entity such as Workforce Services, a state college or even a justice court, you should know state law allows these agencies to get paid by dipping into your tax return.
It's called the state FINDER Program. Because of it, a Murray woman who was able to get her debt collection case dismissed in court still ended up losing a chunk of her state tax refund.
Nearly three years ago, Beverly Workman had to admit her son to a University Hospital in Salt Lake. Until just a few weeks ago, University Health Care was trying to collect on that stay.
Workman says her responsibility for the May 2008 hospital visit ended with a $100 co-pay. After that, she says her insurance plan offered 100 percent coverage. University Health Care disagreed and sent Workman a bill for $423.58.
Workman is frustrated by the amount of time she has spent fighting payment — first through collections, and then in 3rd District Court.
"My husband's given up a couple times," said Workman, "but I'm too stubborn to."
A few weeks ago, Workman received some good news — a letter announcing "discontinued collection efforts" and her "account has been canceled." The letter prompted the court to dismiss her case, but her relief didn't last long.
"Now they're taking the money anyway," Workman said.
University Health Care received payment by filing a lien against Workman's state tax refund. Utah code states when a bill is more than 90 days past due, state entities, like University Health Care, can file a lien on "income tax overpayments or refunds."
There is an appeal process to the lien, which Workman failed to try. She assumed no money could be taken until after her court case was settled.
University of Utah Health Care regrets the delay in returning the amount that was garnished from the Workman family's state income tax refund. The delay was the result of a clerical error.
–Kathy Wilets, University Health Care
She was wrong.
Victoria Schoenfeld, public information officer for the Department of Administrative Services, explained to KSL News that "state and local governments are not required to have a legal judgment against someone who owes them money."
If a debtor fails to appeal the lien, the state can remove the funds and forward it to the agency with an outstanding balance. When a collections case is later dismissed or lost in court, the state entity that received the money must return it. That's what should have happened in Workman's case.
In a written statement, public relations manager Kathy Wilets said, "University of Utah Health Care regrets the delay in returning the amount that was garnished from the Workman family's state income tax refund. The delay was the result of a clerical error. Once the issue was brought to the attention of our billing office, the issue was resolved quickly."
Wilets also pointed out that even with that clerical error, Workman's garnished tax return would have been repaid eventually.
Tired of waiting, a fed-up Workman called KSL for help track down her money. "I think it's ridiculous," she said of the whole experience.
Workman's check arrived in Wednesday's mail, but she isn't so sure she wants to do business with University Health Care again any time soon.
From July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 (FY 2010), 44 entities used the state finder's program to collect more than $12.3 million from more than 43,901 debtors.