When, how and why you’d have to return stimulus money back to the IRS – CNET

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That extra stimulus money may not be yours to keep.


Sarah Tew/CNET

In the rush to meet its Jan. 15 deadline to automatically send the $600 stimulus checks, the IRS may’ve skipped over 8 million Americans who are eligible for a stimulus check but didn’t receive it. The IRS may also have erred on the other side, sending relief payments to some who didn’t actually qualify for the check, or for the total they may’ve received.

The IRS said it mistakenly sent stimulus checks to ineligible people with the first round of relief payments, and it’s possible it did the same thing this time. If you received a payment that you probably weren’t supposed to — for example, you got stimulus money even though you make more than the specified income limit — the IRS expects you to send back the money. And depending on how you received the stimulus payment — by paper checkEIP card or direct deposit — there are specific ways to go about the return.

We’ll list all the reasons the IRS would expect you to send back a stimulus check paid out in error, and how to do it. It’s also important to know your stimulus check rights and these key details about stimulus checks and taxes. (And here’s what’s happening with a third stimulus check, how much money the new payment could bring and when it might be approved.)

Reasons you need to send back the second stimulus check

Qualifications are key to determining who is eligible for a second stimulus check. If you fall into any of these categories and received a stimulus check, it’s likely by error.

  • You received a check for someone who has died — but there’s some nuance, more below.
  • You don’t have a Social Security number.
  • You’re considered a “nonresident alien” without a US citizen spouse.
  • You’re a noncitizen who files federal taxes.
  • Your adjusted gross income exceeds the limit; for example, $87,000 for a single taxpayer.
  • You’re claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes.

Here’s more information about who doesn’t qualify for the $600 stimulus check.


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Returning a paper check you haven’t cashed or deposited

If any of the above statements pertain to you, you may need to send your stimulus check back. Here’s how to do it for each scenario, per the IRS.

1. Write “VOID” in the endorsement section on the back of the check.

2. Do not bend, paper clip or staple the check.

3. On a separate piece of paper, let the IRS know why you’re sending the check back.

4. Mail the check to the appropriate IRS location — it varies depending on which state you live in.

How to send stimulus money that you did cash or deposit

1. Use a personal check or money order and make the check payable to US Treasury. You’ll also need to write 2020 EIP and include the taxpayer identification number or Social Security number of the person whose name is on the check. 

2. On a separate piece of paper, let the IRS know why you’re sending the check back.

3. Mail the check to the appropriate IRS location — it depends on which state you live in.

Returning a check you received for someone who died

If you receive a payment for someone who died in 2019 or earlier, the IRS says you should return the entire payment “unless it was made to joint filers and one spouse is still living.” If you’re the living spouse, you should return half the payment — just not more than $1,200 in all. 

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While you’re still waiting on your check to arrive, you can track it.


Sarah Tew/CNET

However, if the check is issued in both your name and your deceased spouse’s name (and therefore you can’t deposit the money), you’ll need to return the whole amount to the IRS. After the agency can process the returned payment, it will issue you a new check with the correct amount for you.

What if I still haven’t gotten my stimulus check?

If you were among over 100 million people who were eligible to receive the second stimulus check and you haven’t received it, you may be able to claim it as a Recovery Credit Rebate on your taxes, even if you don’t usually file taxes. Alternatively, you may have to start an IRS payment trace.

If you’re not signed up for direct deposit through the IRS, now’s a good time, as a third stimulus check is on the table. To do so, you’ll need to add your banking information when you file your 2020 taxes this year. We also encourage you to file your taxes as early as possible this year, specifically because of stimulus checks.

To stay updated on the latest stimulus check news, here’s what happens now that the IRS has stopped sending second stimulus checks and if you’re having stimulus check problems, do this instead of calling the IRS. Also, here’s what’s happening right now with a third stimulus payment.