Get paid missing stimulus money on your 2020 taxes. How to file before the May 17 deadline – CNET

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If the IRS owes you money from the first two stimulus checks, you can get it by filing a recovery Rebate Credit.


Angela Lang/CNET

If you’ve already received your third stimulus check for $1,400 per person (including dependents), that’s great news. If not, here’s when you could get it and how to track it down. But don’t lose sight of your missing money from the first or second stimulus checks.

Now that tax season is ongoing until May 17 this year, you’ll need to file a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 return if you’re missing any money. After filing, you could receive your money as a larger tax refund or a smaller tax bill if you owe taxes. You should also consider signing up for direct deposit to get your refund back faster. However, be aware that the IRS could garnish some or all of your refund to cover outstanding debts.

We’ll explain what you need to know about starting the Recovery Rebate Credit claim process, including any additional steps you need to take if you’re filing a tax extension this year. Additionally, here’s what we know about a fourth stimulus check and when you could start getting your 2021 Child Tax Credit. Here are six other tax credits that could bring you more money. This story was recently updated.

Here’s how to file for a Recovery Rebate Credit on your taxes to claim missing stimulus money

If you think the IRS owes you a full or partial stimulus check for any reason (and there are plenty of scenarios below), you have one more chance this year to claim missing stimulus check money by filing a Recovery Rebate Credit as part of your 2020 taxes. It may be that the your check total doesn’t match your estimated total for the first stimulus payment or the second check (calculate that here), or maybe there was a delivery error, or an accidental garnishment, or a dependent was left out, like a new baby not represented on last year’s taxes.

To start the Recovery Rebate Credit claim process, first confirm your payment status online through the IRS. If you see a confusing message or a possible error, you may be a candidate for a rebate or a payment trace

You need to file for the credit when you submit your federal tax returns this year. The IRS started processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, and federal tax returns will be due May 17 due to an extension the IRS approved. 

File for your missing money from the first and/or second stimulus on the 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. The tax return instructions include a worksheet to figure out the amount of any Recovery Rebate Credit for which you’re eligible, according to the IRS. However, this worksheet requires you to know the amounts of your stimulus payments. Again, CNET’s stimulus check calculators for the second and first payments can provide an estimate.


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To start filing for a partial check rebate, you’ll need the IRS’ calculated amount from the letter the IRS sent confirming your payment. This was called Notice 1444 for the first payment and Notice 1444-B for the second payment.

If you file for the credit and are owed money, you’ll either see the amount of your tax refund increased or the amount of tax you owe lowered, depending on the amount of stimulus money you’re eligible to receive

How to claim missing stimulus money if you’re a nonfiler or someone who doesn’t file taxes

Last fall, the IRS sent letters to 9 million Americans who may have qualified for a payment but perhaps didn’t know they needed to register to claim it. This group — which the IRS categorizes as “nonfilers” — includes people who didn’t file a tax return in 2018 or 2019, such as older adults, retirees, SSDI or SSI recipients and individuals with incomes less than $12,200. People in this group needed to file a claim using the Non-Filers tool by Nov. 21. The IRS said if you missed the deadline you can claim the payment through the Recovery Rebate Credit when you file a 2020 federal income tax return: 

When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Save your IRS letter — Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment — with your 2020 tax records. You’ll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file in 2021.

That means even if you don’t usually file taxes, you will have to do so this year to claim any missing stimulus money. If you meet the requirements, you can get started with your claim using the IRS’ free tax-filing service. We have more detailed instructions for how nonfilers can file a tax return to claim missing stimulus money here.


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What to do if you used CNET’s stimulus calculator, and it appears that you qualify for more money than the IRS sent

If you use our first stimulus check calculator or second payment calculator and find you may have qualified for a larger stimulus payment than you received, you’ll likely be able to claim your money this year as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

Unfortunately, the IRS Get My Payment tool is no longer available for the first and second stimulus payments, so you won’t be able to find your information there.

Yes, the IRS could garnish your tax refund or missing stimulus money to cover certain debts

Stimulus checks are technically considered a tax credit, no matter how you get them. Typically, the IRS can reduce a taxpayer’s refund to repay outstanding debts like past-due child support, unpaid student loans and certain other federal and state liabilities. The CARES Act stated that the first stimulus check could not be garnished for these purposes, except for overdue child support. 

The December stimulus package went a step further and protected the second round of stimulus checks from all garnishment, including child support. However, it also limited that exception only to advance payments, and retroactively revised the CARES Act’s rules as well — meaning that your Recovery Rebate Credit that arrives on your tax refund for missing stimulus money is treated differently from the stimulus money that arrived for others in the mail, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the IRS.

For the third check, because of the way it was passed, it’s open to garnishment from private debt collectors, but not child support payments.

Bottom line: If you’re eligible for a stimulus payment through a Recovery Rebate Credit, but you have certain outstanding debts, some or all of your credit could be withheld to pay those debts, the Taxpayer Advocate Service wrote in a blog post.

What to do if your stimulus check was mistakenly seized

Although there are a few cases where the federal government or a debt collector could seize your first payment to cover any outstanding debt, in general, if you qualify for a check, it’s yours to spend or save as you want. One area where the federal government can garnish your first stimulus check is for overdue child support. However, if the parents are separated or divorced, only the spouse who owes child support should have the check seized. You can’t have your second check seized for overdue support if it was sent as an advance check (see above).

According to the IRS, the parent who doesn’t owe child support should receive their portion of the first payment without having to take action. If you haven’t received your check, the IRS says it’s working to send out the missing payments. While you don’t have much recourse to appeal IRS decisions, you can also try the Non-Filers tool to create a record of your claim.

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There are still unclaimed stimulus checks.


Sarah Tew/CNET

How to claim missing stimulus money for child dependents

Under the CARES Act passed in March 2020, each qualifying child dependent — those 16 years old and younger — was eligible for a $500 check. But some people’s payments were short $500 for each eligible dependent. If you claimed it by Nov. 21 of 2020, you should have received the payment in December 2020. 

As with the nonfilers, if you missed that deadline, the IRS says you can claim the payment on your 2020 federal tax return this year, by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR. Use our stimulus check calculator to get an idea of how much you may be owed.

In the second stimulus check, which went out in December, children under 17 were each allotted $600 as part of the family total.

Note that in a few cases, where parents are separated or divorced and share joint custody of a dependent, each parent can get a $500 or $600 payment per eligible child, for the first and second checks, respectively. So you may not even be aware you’re eligible for the payment to begin with.

What to know if you’re a US citizen living abroad or a noncitizen

The IRS has rules that set the payment eligibility guidelines for US citizens who live abroad and non-US citizens who work in the US — along with spouses of nonresident aliens. We have a guide that walks you through the various eligibility scenarios along with what to do if you qualify but didn’t get a check. (And here’s how your status might change in a third check for mixed-status families.)

People incarcerated can receive a stimulus payment, according to a court ruling 

Since April 2020, when it first started sending payments, the IRS has gone back and forth on whether those who are in US jails and prisons qualify for a stimulus check.

A ruling last fall by a federal judge in California, however, seemed to have settled the question for now and required the IRS to contact those incarcerated and let them know they can file a claim for a stimulus check. The deadline to file a claim in 2020 — either through the mail or online — has passed. As with others who are missing a payment, the IRS said if you didn’t receive a payment by Dec. 31, 2020, you may be able to claim it this year by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

For everything to know about the first stimulus payment, see our guide to the first round of checks. Also, here’s how much money you could get with the third check and everything to know about the third stimulus payment.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

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