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Your Not-So-Ordinary Stimulus Check Questions Answered (1)

March 18, 2021, 8:46 AM; Updated: March 18, 2021, 8:10 PM

The third round of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs, or stimulus checks) has been making news this week, already hitting bank accounts. You probably know the basics:

  • Checks are $1,400 per person ($2,800 for married taxpayers), plus $1,400 per eligible dependent.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number (SSN) or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN).
  • Checks are subject to phase-outs beginning at $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for married taxpayers. Phase-outs mean that the benefit goes down as income goes up: Payments reach zero at $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for heads of household, and $160,000 for married taxpayers.
  • Checks aren’t taxable for federal purposes and don’t affect federal benefits.

But what about those not-so-ordinary situations? Here’s what you need to know.

Income

Are payments based on 2019 or 2020 income? I’ve already filed my 2020 tax return.
Payments are based on 2019 income. However, if you’ve already filed for 2020, payments will be based on 2020 income.

I made a lot of money in 2020 (thanks, GameStop), but I’ve already received my check. Do I have to send it back?
No. Checks aren’t subject to clawback: That means that you can keep yours even if you no longer qualify.

I didn’t qualify for either of the earlier stimulus checks. Am I eligible for the third?
Maybe. Earlier checks were based on your 2018 or 2019 tax information. But if you made less income in 2020, you may be eligible now.

What if I normally work, but I am now unemployed?
You don’t need to work to be eligible to receive a check.

Non-Filers

What if I didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return because I’m typically a non-filer?

  • If you didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return, but you registered with the IRS using the Non-Filers portal last year, you don’t have to do anything.
  • If, however, you didn’t file a 2019 or 2020 tax return and you didn’t register with the IRS last year, you must file a 2020 tax return and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC, the stimulus check equivalent that you can claim on your 2020 tax return) to receive a check. This is true even if you normally don’t need to file a tax return. A quick word of caution: You must still file a complete and accurate tax return (don’t skimp on details because you’re not used to filing).

I receive government benefits and last time, I got my check automatically. Do I need to do anything this time?
If you are a non-filer and you receive Social Security and Railroad Retirement Board benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Veterans benefits, you don’t have to do anything.

I receive government benefits, and I received a payment for me, but not for my dependent. What should I do?
If you didn’t receive payment for your dependent, you must file a 2020 tax return. That’s true even if you don’t usually file.

Dependents

What if someone else claims me on their tax return?
You aren’t entitled to an individual check if you are claimed as a dependent.

What if I was a dependent last year, but now I’m not?
If you could be claimed as a dependent last year, but you can’t be claimed as a dependent on another return in 2020, you may be eligible for a check.

My wife and my child have valid SSNs, but I do not. What does that mean?
If your wife has a valid SSN, she will receive the amount for each qualifying dependent claimed on the 2020 tax return - even though you don’t qualify.

I had a baby in 2020. How do I get the extra $1,400?
If you didn’t receive the total amount you’re entitled to, you’ll need to file a 2020 tax return.

Other Family Members

My husband has a SSN, but I don’t, and we file jointly. What does that mean?
Your husband will receive a check, but you will not. However, if either of you was an active member of the military during the tax year, only one spouse needs to have a valid SSN for both of you to receive a check.

My mother passed away on Dec. 31, 2020. Can we still get a check for her by filing a 2020 tax return?
No. A person who died before Jan. 1, 2021, isn’t entitled to the most recent check.

My husband/wife/grandmother is in jail. Are they eligible for a check?
Yes. Being in jail doesn’t change your eligibility.

Debts

Will I still get the check if I owe the IRS some money?
Maybe not. Earlier payments could not be offset for back taxes. However, the RRC—the credit you’ll claim on your 2020 tax return if you didn’t receive a check—may be used to pay your federal tax bill.

What happens if I owe student loans or other federal debts?
It’s unclear. Earlier stimulus payments could not be offset to pay federal debts, but that’s not the case with the RRC. However, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS has agreed to use its discretion to bypass these offsets.

Can my check be seized to pay back child support?
No, the third round of stimulus checks won’t be taken by the IRS to pay back child support. But see below.

Can I keep my check away from creditors?
This time, there are no protections—like coded bank deposits—to prevent debt collectors from seizing checks once they hit your account.

Mistakes

I’ve already filed my 2020 tax return and I didn’t claim the RRC. What do I do?
You need to file an amended return (Form 1040X). The IRS will not calculate the credit for you if you didn’t claim it on your return.

I made a mistake when I calculated the RRC on my tax return. What do I do?
Nothing. Do not file an amended tax return if your only mistake was the wrong amount for the RRC: You’ll just confuse the IRS. If you made a mistake in calculating the amount, the IRS will fix it for you.

I never activated my old EIP card. Can I get that amount added to my new stimulus check?
No, so far as the IRS is concerned, amounts on the card have already been paid to you. But all is not lost: you can still activate and use the EIP card through 2023. If your card has been lost or destroyed, you can request a replacement by calling MetaBank®, N.A., at 1-800-240-8100.

You can check the status of your check with the Get My Payment tool, available in English and Spanish.

(Updates to clarify filing language.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kelly Phillips Erb in Washington at kerb@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergindustry.com; David Jolly at djolly@bloombergindustry.com

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