How can I get my stimulus checks if I am incarcerated?

By Christine Tran, 2021 Get It Back Campaign Intern

This page will be regularly updated as new information becomes available.

Last updated 04/20/2021

You can use the new IRS Non-filer portal to claim any stimulus checks you haven’t gotten. You can also sign up for advance Child Tax Credit Payments (monthly payments up to $300 per child for parents and caregivers). 

First Stimulus Check

I am incarcerated, am I eligible for the first stimulus check?

Yes. If you are incarcerated in a state or federal prison, you are eligible to receive the first $1,200 stimulus check if you meet all four requirements:

  1. You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien.
  2. You or your spouse have a valid Social Security NumberYou will receive the payment for any tax filers who have an SSN, and any child dependents (if at least one parent has an SSN)If one spouse is a military member, only one spouse needs to have an SSN for both spouses to get the payment.  
  3. You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
  4. Your 2018 or 2019 income is under $99,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $198,000 (married filing jointly). You also qualify if you have no income.

I thought the IRS said incarcerated people weren’t eligible for the first stimulus check. How am I now eligible?

On September 24, 2020, a federal judge issued an order requiring the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to stop withholding stimulus checks for incarcerated individuals. The judge also ordered that any stimulus check that was withheld, intercepted, or returned based on an individual’s incarcerated status be reprocessed by October 24, 2020.

How can I get my first stimulus check?

If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return or you are a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary, the government had until October 24, 2020 to reprocess and reissue your first stimulus check if it was withheld, intercepted, or returned based on your incarceration status. You should have received your first stimulus check by November 13, 2020.

If you requested your first stimulus check by using the IRS Non-Filer Form or filing a simplified tax return, you should have received your payment from the IRS.

The IRS has issued all first stimulus checks. If you have not received your first stimulus check, you will have to claim the stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. The deadline to file your taxes this year is May 17, 2021.

Will the amount of my first stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue tax or prison debts?

The first stimulus check cannot be reduced to pay back taxes or federal and state debts. It can be reduced to pay past-due child support. In addition, the first stimulus check is not protected from garnishment by private debt collectors.

Depending on the facility rules, your first stimulus check can be reduced to pay certain fees or debts. For example, in California, the first stimulus check can be reduced for criminal restitution. In Pennsylvania, the first stimulus check can be reduced up to 25 percent to pay for fees.

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Find out how stimulus checks are treated when you claim them on your 2020 tax return as the Recovery Rebate Credit.

Second Stimulus Check

I am incarcerated, am I eligible for the second stimulus check?

Yes, you will not be denied the second stimulus check based on your incarceration status.

If you are incarcerated in a state or federal prison, you are eligible to receive the second $600 stimulus check if you meet all four requirements (please note that some of these requirements differ from the requirements of the first stimulus check):

  1. You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien.
  2. You or your spouse have a valid Social Security Number. You will receive the payment for any tax filers who have an SSN, and any child dependents (if at least one parent has an SSN). If one spouse is a military member, only one spouse needs to have an SSN for both spouses to get the payment. 
  3. You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s 2019 tax return.
  4. Your 2019 income is under $87,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $174,000 (married filing jointly). You also qualify if you have no income.

Learn more about the second stimulus check here.

How can I get my second stimulus check?

Your payment will be automatically sent to you if:

  • You meet the eligibility requirements and filed a 2019 tax return.
  • You are a Social Security recipient (including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or railroad retiree), or you are a Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) or Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary.
  • You successfully registered for the first stimulus check online using the IRS Non-Filer tool or you submitted a simplified tax return that has been processed by the IRS.

As of now, we don’t know what the IRS is doing to make sure that the second stimulus checks are properly sent to individuals who are currently incarcerated. We will update this page as information becomes known.

The IRS has sent out all second stimulus checks. If you didn’t get a second stimulus check by January 15 (mailed checks may take longer to deliver) and did not receive your first stimulus check, you will have to file a 2020 federal tax return and claim both stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The deadline to file your taxes this year is May 17, 2021.

Will the amount of my second stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison?

Unlike your first stimulus check, your second stimulus check has greater protection from garnishment. Like the first stimulus check, your second stimulus check is protected from back taxes or federal and state debts. In addition, the second stimulus check is also protected from debt collection. That means that federal and state prison cannot reduce the amount of your second stimulus check to pay overdue debts.

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Find out how stimulus checks are treated when you claim them on your 2020 tax return as the Recovery Rebate Credit.

Third Stimulus Check 

I am incarcerated, am I eligible for the third stimulus check? 

Yes, you will not be denied the third stimulus check based on your incarceration status.  

If you are incarcerated in a state or federal prison, you are eligible to receive the third $1,400 stimulus check if you meet all four requirements (note that some of these requirements differ from the requirements of the first and second stimulus check): 

  1. You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien. 
  2. Someone in your household has a valid Social Security Number (SSN). Any member of your household with an SSN can receive the payment. Dependents with SSNs or ATINs can receive a payment even if both you and your spouse don’t have SSNs. If one spouse is a military member, only one spouse needs to have an SSN for both spouses to get the payment.  
  3. You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s 2019 or 2020 tax return. 
  4. Your 2019 or 2020 income is under $80,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $160,000 (married filing jointly). You also qualify if you have no income. 

Learn more about the third stimulus check here.

How can I get my third stimulus check? 

Your payment will be sent to you if any of the following are true: 

  • You meet the eligibility requirements and filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return. 
  • You are a Social Security recipient (including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or railroad retiree), or you are a Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) or Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary. 
  • You successfully registered for the first stimulus check online using the IRS Non-Filer tool or you submitted a simplified tax return that has been processed by the IRS. 

If you don’t fall into any of the above categoriesyou will have to file a 2020 federal tax return to claim your third stimulus check (and your first and second if you haven’t gotten it). The deadline to file your taxes this year is May 17, 2021. 

Will the amount of my third stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison? 

It is unclear whether your third stimulus check will be reduced to pay certain prison fees or debts. We will update this page once we have more information.  

General Information

Where are my stimulus checks?

You can track the status of your third stimulus check by using the IRS Get My Payment tool, available in English and Spanish. You can see when your third stimulus checks were sent and whether your payment type was direct deposit or mail.  

When you use the IRS Get My Payment tool, you will get one of the following messages: 

Payment Status, which means: 

  • A payment has been processed. You will be shown a payment date and whether the payment type is direct deposit or mail or  
  • You’re eligible, but a payment has not been processed and a payment date is not available. 

Payment Status Not Available, which means: 

  • Your payment has not been processed or 
  • You’re not eligible for a payment. 

Need More Information, which means: 

  • Your payment was returned to the IRS because the post office was unable to deliver it. If this message is displayed, you will have a chance to enter your banking information and receive your payment as a direct deposit. Otherwise, you will need to update your address before the IRS can send you your payment. 

Information on the first and second stimulus checks is no longer available on the Get My Payment tool. You can also view information about these payments by creating an account on IRS.gov/account. To create an account, you will need: 

  1. Basic information: full name, email, birthday, Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), tax filing status, and current address. 
  2. A number from ONE of your financial accounts as the last 8 digits of your VISA, Mastercard, or Discover credit card or the loan account number of one of the following types of loans: student loan, mortgage loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, OR an auto loan. 

The IRS has issued all first and second stimulus checks. If you haven’t gotten your first and/or second stimulus check by now, you will have to file a federal tax return and claim it as part of your tax refund. The deadline to file your taxes this year is May 17, 2021.

I used the IRS Non-Filer tool/submitted a 2019 tax return, but I haven’t received my first and/or second stimulus checks. What do I do?

Most likely, the IRS was unable to process your 2019 tax return in time to issue your first and second stimulus checks. You can call the IRS hotline at 1-800-919-9835 to check on the status of your claim.

The IRS has issued all first and second stimulus checks. If you haven’t received them, you will have to claim your stimulus payment as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. The deadline to file your taxes this year is May 17, 2021.

What happens if my stimulus check was sent as a debit card instead of as a check?

The IRS sent a letter to prison officials that if debit cards couldn’t be processed at your prison facility, prison officials have to return the debit cards to the IRS fiscal agent at:

Fiserv

Attn: RAPID

1007 North 97th Circle

Omaha, NE 68122

The debit cards will be voided and you will have to claim the stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

How do I claim my stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit on my 2020 tax return?

1. By Mail: CARES Act Prison Case has IRS instructions on how people who are incarcerated can file a 2020 tax return, a blank IRS 2020 tax form you can print and fill out, and a completed IRS sample 2020 tax form you can reference.

To learn more about how to file by mail and where to send your completed tax form, click here.

2. Electronically: You can use free tax software, such as MyFreeTaxes, to file your taxes electronically and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit.

You can also use IRS Free File to prepare and file your taxes online for free.

To learn more about how to file electronically, click here.

Can my lawyer file for me?

Attorneys at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Berstein (who worked on the court case that fought for the right of people who are incarcerated to receive stimulus checks) suggest that attorneys can file on behalf of people in prison by using Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. To learn more about how attorneys can file for people who are incarcerated, click here.

If I receive my stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit, will it be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison?

If you are claiming the payments as part of your 2020 tax refund (known as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit), the payments are no longer protected from past-due child support payments, back taxes, creditor and debt collectors, and other federal or state debt that you owe (see IRS FAQs Q E2 and Q E3). In other words, if you receive your first and second stimulus checks as part of your tax refund instead of direct checks, it is not protected from garnishment and may be reduced.

Need More Help?

If you need help claiming your first and second payment as the Recovery Rebate tax credit on your 2020 tax return, you can:

The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

If you want additional information about stimulus checks for people who are incarcerated, you can:

  • Visit Cares Act Prison Case, a webpage resource created by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and the Equal Justice Society, who filed the lawsuit that successfully fought for the right of people who are incarcerated to receive stimulus checks.
  • Call Root & Rebound at (510) 279-4662 to request a Root & Rebound’s Stimulus Payments Recovery Rebate Credit FAQ Packet with a sample and blank Form 1040. This packet can be sent to people who are incarcerated so that they can file for the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit. They are also available to answer any general questions about stimulus checks from Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm PT.

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