Your 2020 Tax Return: How to Claim Stimulus Money You Didn’t Get

 The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued about 160 million stimulus checks to eligible Americans for the first round of economic impact payments (EIP) that began in April. Millions more payments, dubbed EIP 2, started going out in late December for the second round of stimulus. Nevertheless, some people never got their first-round stimulus checks, while others didn’t receive the full amount to which they were entitled. The same will be true for the second round of stimulus payments.

If you didn’t receive money from the first or second round of stimulus payments — or you didn’t get the full amount you should have — don’t give up. You’ll need to file the standard 1040 federal tax return form, or the 1040-SR tax return for people 65 or older, to get your missing stimulus money in the form of a tax credit that will either lower the amount of tax you owe or increase the size of your refund.

Why you may be missing stimulus money

The first round of stimulus checks, mandated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was signed into law in March 2020. The CARES Act gave a maximum $1,200 per person and $500 per eligible dependent child under 17. Payments were limited by 2019 or 2018 income as reported on federal income tax forms. Individuals who had more than $75,000 in adjusted gross income had their stimulus check reduced by $5 for every $100 of income, and the same was true for married couples filing jointly with income above $150,000. Individuals who earned more than $99,000 and couples who earned more than $198,000 jointly did not receive checks.

The second round of stimulus checks gives a maximum $600 per eligible person and dependent child. Married couples who filed jointly in 2019 receive $1,200 total ($600 apiece). Families get an additional $600 for each eligible dependent child under 17. The income limits are the same for the second round of stimulus payments as they were for the first, though the phaseout amounts are lower since the maximum payment is $600 vs. $1,200 during the first round. Individuals who earned more than $87,000 and couples who earned more than $174,000 jointly won’t receive second-round checks. The deadline for the IRS to issue second-round payments is Jan. 15.

Income limits are one reason you might not have gotten your first stimulus check, or that your first stimulus check wasn’t as much as you thought it should be. For example, the IRS used 2019 tax returns to calculate the amount of some stimulus checks. If you lost your job in 2020, your 2019 income may have been too high for you to get a full check, or even any payment at all. Your 2020 tax return gives you a chance to get whatever amount you’re still owed.

Many people who automatically received the first round of stimulus checks because they were getting federal benefits from the Social Security Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs may not have gotten stimulus payments for their dependent children. Others may have run into snafus with the online Enter Payment Here tool on IRS.gov.

Other reasons for not getting a stimulus check

  • You had or adopted a baby in 2020. The IRS used 2018 or 2019 tax returns to calculate stimulus payments. If you gained another member of your family in 2020 who is eligible for the stimulus payment, you’re entitled to a $500 credit from the first stimulus round, and $600 for the second.
  • Your income fell in 2020, so you got less than you should be entitled to, based on your higher 2019 income.
  • You weren’t required to file a tax return in 2019 or 2018 and didn’t use the online IRS tool to register your bank information. (The tool is now closed.)

If you’re a married couple filing jointly, and only one of you had a valid Social Security number, no one in your family was eligible for the first round of stimulus payments. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 14.4 million individuals in mixed-status families are ineligible for the first stimulus check. That requirement was eliminated from the second round of stimulus checks, however, and filing taxes for 2020 will get you the second-round payment.

Afraid you’ll lose Recover Rebate Credit
Technically, stimulus payments are a tax credit for 2020. Also known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. A tax credit, unlike a tax deduction, reduces your taxable income (and thus your tax payment). Even better, unlike other credits, the Recovery Rebate Credit will reimburse you for overpayments of tax. Assuming you owe $700 in federal income taxes for 2020, a $1,200 stimulus tax credit would result in a $500 refund.

Tax form 1040 or 1040-SR for 2020 to claim Recovery Rebate Credit. You’ll also need IRS Notice 1444, which should have come a few days after your first stimulus check, and IRS Notice 1444-B, which should have come a few days after your second. You don’t need either if you didn’t get a stimulus check.

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