Missing stimulus check money: How to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your taxes – CNET

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If you missed the deadline to claim your first stimulus check in 2020, you still have one option left to get that money. 


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The second stimulus check is starting to take shape thanks to progress on another stimulus bill, but are you still missing all or part of your economic stimulus check that went out earlier this year? It’s too late to request the money in 2020, since the deadline to register a claim for a missing stimulus payment of up to $1,200 per adult or $500 per child dependent was Nov. 21. But as long as you’re actually qualified to get that first payment, you can still file for any money you’re owed in early 2021.

When you file your taxes in 2021, you can claim your stimulus check money in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit from the IRS. 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. You can claim this money whether or not Congress approves a second stimulus check as part of another economic relief package this month or next year. 

We break down how to find out if you qualify for more money from the first round of payments (you can also find out why you might not be eligible for a second payment, if one passes), and how to claim that money in 2021. This story was updated recently.


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When and how to file a claim for a missing stimulus check in 2021

If you belong to one of the groups outlined below, or tried estimating your total stimulus payment and think the IRS didn’t send your check in full, you have another chance to claim your stimulus check money through an IRS Recovery Rebate Credit. You’ll be able to file for this credit during the 2021 tax season; if the typical schedule holds, your federal tax return will be due April 15 (though in 2020, the IRS extended the deadline to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

While the IRS doesn’t have specific instructions yet for every personal situation (more on these below), the agency does say that people who file taxes can use 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR to claim a catch-up payment. If you received a partial payment, you’ll need the IRS’ calculated amount from the letter called Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment when you file in 2021.  

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. 

If you don’t normally file a federal tax return, here’s what to do

Starting in September, 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. Those 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, which, again, it calls a Recovery Rebate Credit, in 2021 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.

If you’re missing a payment for a dependent child, do this

Under the CARES Act, 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, you could receive the payment in December. You can use our stimulus check calculator to get an idea of how much you may be owed.

As with the nonfilers, if you missed the deadline, the IRS said you can claim the payment on your 2020 federal tax return in 2021, by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR.

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 payment per eligible child, so you may not even be aware you’re eligible for the payment to begin with.

If your check was garnished by mistake, here’s what to do

Although there are a few cases where the federal government or a debt collector could seize your payment to cover an 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 a 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. 

According to the IRS, the parent who does not owe child support should receive their portion of the payment without having to take action. If you haven’t received your check, the IRS said it is 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.

If you used our stimulus check calculator and believe your check amount is wrong

Finally, if you use our stimulus check calculator and find you may have qualified for a larger payment than you received, you can use the IRS Get My Payment tool to see if a check is in the works. If the IRS is waiting on information from you it needs to make your payment, you might still be able to claim your money next year. Otherwise, you will need to wait till 2021.

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There are still unclaimed stimulus checks.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re a US citizen abroad, in US territories or not a citizen 

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 through the various eligibility scenarios along with what to do if you qualify but didn’t get a check.

People in jail or prison qualify by court order

Since April, 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 this fall from a federal judge in California, however, seemed to have settled the question for now and 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 in 2021 by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

For everything to know about the first payment, see our guide to the first round of checks. We also have an idea of how quickly the IRS could send out the second stimulus check, what priority group you would be in to receive a second check, and what other benefits you might expect in another economic relief package.