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Despite meeting the qualifications, millions of people never received their first and second stimulus checks. For some folks, only part of the payment showed up by direct deposit, check or EIP card. If any of these happened to you, it’s possible the IRS made an error or that you’re missing money for your dependents. It’s also possible that your check was mistakenly garnished or you needed to take an extra step because you’re a tax nonfiler. But don’t worry: You can still claim the full amount you’re entitled to receive when you file your 2020 tax return. Just use the IRS Recovery Rebate Credit. 

Using the credit won’t get you a rebate check. But it will either increase your tax refund or cut your tax bill. If you don’t usually file taxes (for instance, if you’re on SSI or SSDI, or you’re retired), you’ll still to file a 2020 return to claim your missing stimulus payment. (We’ve got instructions on how to claim missing stimulus money for nonfilers here). We recommend getting your paperwork in order before the IRS starts processing returns on Feb. 12filing your taxes early, and signing up for direct deposit

The first step to get your Recovery Rebate Credit is to confirm your payment status online through the IRS. If you see a confusing message or a possible error, you may be a candidate to claim missing money. In some cases, you may have to request a payment trace on your stimulus check, rather than use the credit. 

Here’s everything you need to know about filing for a Recovery Rebate Credit. (This story was recently updated.)

How can I claim my missing stimulus money on my tax return?

If you belong to one of the groups outlined below, estimated your total for the first stimulus payment or used our calculator to get an idea of your payment for the second and think the IRS didn’t send the full amount you qualified for, you have another chance this year to claim missing stimulus check money through an IRS Recovery Rebate Credit.

You’ll file for the credit when you do your federal tax returns this year. The IRS said it’ll start processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, and federal tax returns will be due April 15. (In 2020, the IRS extended the deadline to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

While the IRS doesn’t have final instructions yet for every personal situation (more on these below), the agency does say that people who file taxes can use what will be called the Recovery Rebate Credit on the 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR to claim a catch-up payment. The IRS will provide a Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet to help you work out if you’re missing a payment and for how much.

To start filing for a partial check rebate, you’ll need the IRS’ calculated amount from the letter the IRS sent confirming your payment was sent called Notice 1444 for the first payment and Notice 1444-B for the second payment when you file this year.

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 I’m a nonfiler and don’t usually required to file a tax return, how do I claim my missing stimulus money?

Last fall, 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 through the Recovery Rebate Credit 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 meet the requirements, you can get starting with your claim using the IRS’ free tax-filing service. We’ve got more detailed instructions for how nonfilers can file a tax return to claim missing stimulus money here.

How do I claim missing stimulus payment for my child dependent?

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 of 2020 you should have received the payment in December of last year. 

As with the nonfilers, if you missed the deadline, the IRS said you can claim the payment on your 2020 federal tax return this year, by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR. You can use our stimulus check calculator to get an idea of how much you may be owed.

In the second stimulus check, children under 17 were each allotted $600 as part of the family total.

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 or $600 payment per eligible child, for the first and second checks, respectively, so you may not even be aware you’re eligible for the payment to begin with.

What happens if my stimulus check was garnished by accident?

Although there are a few cases where the federal government or a debt collector could seize your first payment to cover any 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 the first check is for overdue child support. You can’t have your second check seized for overdue 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 doesn’t owe child support should receive their portion of the first 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.

I used CNET’s stimulus calculator and think the IRS owes me more money than I got. What can I do?

If you use our first stimulus check calculator or second payment calculator and find you may have qualified for a larger stimulus payment than you received, you can use the IRS Get My Payment tool to see if a check has been approved. If the IRS is waiting for information from you it needs to make your payment, you might still be able to claim your money this year as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

What to do if you’re a US citizen living abroad, living in a US territory or if you’re 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. (And here’s how status might change in a third check for mixed-status families.)

This is why people who are incarcerated aren’t excluded from receiving a stimulus payment

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 last fall by 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 in 2020 — 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, 2020, you may be able to claim it this year 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 much money you could get in the next stimulus check, the current situation is with a third stimulus payment and all the benefits the next stimulus package could bring.

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