Good news: The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act means that many Americans will be receiving a third stimulus check in the coming weeks, bringing up to $1,400 per person in your household. But what if you never received your first or second stimulus payment, for your or your dependents? Here’s how to claim the stimulus check you so deserve. Spoiler: It involves the drudgery of filing your taxes (sorry).
Why your stimulus check may be missing
Although the stimulus payments have provided some much-needed relief, the delivery process has not been without its flaws. In some cases, payments have been deposited into old, inactive bank accounts or checks mailed to the wrong address; other individuals have received a payment for themselves, but not for their dependents; and folks who don’t typically file taxes may have slipped through the cracks entirely—particularly those who missed the deadline to use the IRS non-filers tool to claim payment. Bottom line: There are a whole host of reasons why your Economic Impact Payment (EIP) might have missed the mark, or just gone missing. Whatever the case may be, there’s a fairly straightforward solution, and it comes down to filing your 2020 taxes. (Note: This applies to non-filers, too.)
How to claim your missing stimulus check
If you didn’t receive the stimulus check you expected and were entitled to, then you may be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit. Whether your stimulus payment was inaccurate—you didn’t receive payment for your dependents or received a smaller amount than your current income entitled you to—or completely absent (i.e., the only time you don’t want to be ghosted by the IRS), your 2020 federal income tax return should solve the problem.
Listen up, though, because this is key: To claim your missing stimulus money, you must fill out line 30 on 2020 tax form 1040 or 1040-SR to receive the Recovery Rebate Credit. To do this, you will need to have some information handy—namely the exact amount of any Economic Impact Payments you did receive, in the event that partial (rather than absent) payment was the problem. The fastest way to find that information is by referencing the letters (IRS Notice 1444 and IRS Notice 1444-B) you received when both stimulus payments went out. Lost the letters? No problem—just set up an account with the IRS if you don’t have one already and you should be able to view a record of any stimulus payments that were sent to you.
When can you file?
The IRS began accepting tax returns as of February 12, 2021 and, as of now, the filing deadline has not been extended beyond the standard date of April 15. Regardless, the sooner you file then the sooner you will see your refund (and your missing stimulus check)—so get on it and, if you can, take advantage of the IRS e-file program, which is exceedingly easy to navigate and entirely free for those who made less than $72,000 in 2020.
What about adult dependents?
Adult dependents—a diverse group that includes college students, the elderly and disabled individuals—were overlooked in a big way for the first two stimulus payments. Unfortunately, there’s not much that will be done about that it seems: You cannot claim missing stimulus checks for adult dependents on your 2020 tax return. That said, the silver lining is that the recently passed American Rescue Plan does include a provision that full payments be issued for adult dependents and minor dependents alike.
How do changes to household size and income affect my payment?
A lot can happen in a year (just ask 2020) and there are a number of changes to your personal situation that could affect the amount of your Economic Impact Payment—namely because both the first and second stimulus check payments were most likely calculated based on the information you provided on your 2019 or 2018 tax return. As such, the IRS might be under the impression you have fewer mouths to feed because you had a child (or even multiples!) born in 2020. In this scenario, you are eligible to receive payments ($1100 per child between the two stimulus checks) for your new dependents—so by all means, claim that cash on your 2020 tax return.
You may have also been wrongfully short changed or flat out denied your Economic Impact Payment if your 2019 income was significantly more than what you earned in 2020—a not so uncommon occurrence given the devastating job losses caused by COVID-19. The good news is that, although the IRS used recent tax returns to determine eligibility, this approach was really just a means to expedite payment; at the end of the day, it’s your 2020 circumstances that dictate what you’re owed—and it’s your 2020 tax return that will provide you the opportunity to set the record straight.
Can I receive a stimulus check if I owe money to the IRS?
Yes and no. If you were fortunate enough to receive a paper check or EIP card in the mail, or a direct cash infusion into your bank account, then that money is indeed all yours. Alas, if you were overlooked for whatever reason when the first and second Economic Impact Payments went out, your only recourse is the Recovery Rebate Credit—a tax credit that will automatically go toward paying off what you owe on your 2020 tax return.
Similarly, if you’re all paid up for 2020 but have outstanding tax debt from previous years, the Recovery Rebate Credit will increase your 2020 refund amount...but, as is always the case, that refund will go first and foremost towards chipping away at your tax debt. (And no, you don’t have any say in the matter). Still, you do get the Economic Impact Payment you’re entitled to, you just don’t get to decide how you spend it.