Expecting to get a second stimulus check? Better know your rights – CNET

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Who can garnish your stimulus check? We’ll tell you.


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On Sunday, President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus package that includes a second stimulus check. The COVID-19 relief bill provides direct payments of up to $600 per qualified adult and dependent. The IRS and the US Treasury could start sending out the next set of payments as early as the beginning of January.

Though you’re typically entitled to use your stimulus money as you want to, there are certain situations where your check could be taken away by the state government, banks or creditors. It’s key to know your rights so you’re aware of how much money you’re eligible to receive, and who can and can’t legally take your second stimulus check.

We recently updated this story.

The government won’t tax your first and second stimulus check

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus payments to be income, which means you won’t be taxed on your stimulus money, and the IRS won’t garnish it to pay for any back taxes you owe. 

That also means a direct payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. If you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim your full stimulus check amount as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021 (more on that below). 

You’re not required to file taxes to get a stimulus check 

Though taxes do play a role in determining stimulus check eligibility, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act, and also can with a second check. You just might need to take an extra step to request your payment and get your check. 


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Landlords and nursing homes can’t take your stimulus check money

The CARES Act prevented landlords from demanding you give them your stimulus check to make a rent payment. Nursing homes and care facilities also cannot ask you to hand over your stimulus check money to meet a payment, according to the IRS

The second stimulus check follows the same rules. If someone pressures you or threatens you with eviction in exchange for your payment, make sure you know your rights in regards to stimulus checks and to the eviction moratorium that lasts through Jan. 31. The $900 billion stimulus legislation includes rental assistance for states and cities. 

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Is the stimulus money really yours? That depends.


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If you’re late on a car payment, your stimulus money won’t be taken

Likewise, people who are worried about car repossession if they can’t make a payment are in most cases not obligated to hand over any stimulus money, unless it falls into an exception below. Here’s what we know about missed car payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’re behind on child support, your check can’t be garnished 

Under the CARES Act, stimulus money could be seized by state and federal agencies to cover past-due child support. However, your second stimulus check can’t be taken away if you owe money on child support. Here’s everything to know about stimulus checks and child support.

If you haven’t received all or part of your first check, you can claim a rebate to get that money later

If you were eligible for a first check but still haven’t received a direct deposit, check or prepaid EIP debit card from the IRS, you may have mistakenly been overlooked, or you may have a problem that you need to resolve. Certain groups who are eligible for that first payment, such as some older adults, retirees, SSDI recipients, noncitizens and those who are incarcerated, can file a claim for payment in 2021.

To get your money this way — which the IRS calls a Recovery Rebate Credit — you have to wait until you file your 2020 federal income tax return (the deadline for which is currently April 15). When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR, you’ll get a rebate for the amount of money you missed out on in the first round. This credit would either increase the amount of your tax refund or lower the amount of the tax you need to pay by the amount of stimulus money you’re still owed. 

Also, if you don’t receive your second stimulus check by Jan. 15, you can claim it when you claim the first payment on your taxes.

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If you owe child support, all or part of your stimulus check could be used to cover the expense.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Incarcerated people may still be able to claim their stimulus check 

Though there was a lot of confusion at first, people who are in prison and jail are eligible to qualify for the first stimulus check of up to $1,200 per adult. 

A ruling this fall from a federal judge in California required the IRS to contact those incarcerated who can file a claim for a stimulus check. The deadline to file a claim this year — either through the mail or online — has passed. As with others who are missing a payment, the IRS said if you do not receive a payment by Dec. 31 you may be able to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit in 2021 by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

Right now, incarcerated people are entitled to a second stimulus check.

Banks and creditors are not able to take your second stimulus check

Private banks and creditors were able to seize a payment to cover an outstanding debt with the first check. However, some states, such as California, have issued orders forbidding banks and creditors from garnishing your stimulus check. With the second stimulus check, the payments are protected from bank garnishment and from private creditors or debt collectors.

Can the IRS make you send back your stimulus money?

The IRS said a payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay a stimulus payment if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. (Here’s how your income taxes influence your payment.)

However, if the IRS thinks it mistakenly sent you more stimulus check money than you qualify for, or if you receive money in your check for someone who’s died, the agency expects you to return the payment.