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 12/17/2021

Congress approved three rounds of stimulus checks for continued COVID relief. Learn more about the first stimulus check, second stimulus check, and third stimulus check.

In 2022, you can claim any stimulus checks you haven’t gotten. You will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the first and second stimulus checks and a 2021 tax return to get the third stimulus check. Click here to learn about free tax filing services.

If I am incarcerated, am I eligible for the stimulus checks?

Yes, if you are incarcerated you are eligible to receive the stimulus checks if you meet the other eligibility criteria.

Eligibility for first stimulus and second stimulus checks:

  1. Residency: You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien.
  2. Taxpayer Identification Number: 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. Dependency: You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
  4. Income: First stimulus: Your 2018 or 2019 income is under $99,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $198,000 (married filing jointly). Second stimulus: 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.

Eligibility for third stimulus check:

  1. Residency: You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien.
  2. Taxpayer Identification Number: 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. Dependency: You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s 2019 or 2020 tax return.
  4. Income: 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.

How can I get my stimulus checks?

First and second stimulus checks

The IRS has sent out all first and second stimulus checks. If you didn’t receive your first or second stimulus checks, you will have to claim them as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 federal tax return (this is a past-year tax return). Click here to learn about free tax filing services. You can file your taxes virtually by going to GetYourRefund.org.

Third stimulus check

If you didn’t receive your third stimulus check, you will have to file a 2021 federal tax return and claim the third stimulus check as the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit. Note that this is a different tax year than you must file for the first and second stimulus checks. Click here to learn about free tax filing services.

Click here to learn more about who got the stimulus checks already.

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 2020 Non-Filer Form or filing a simplified tax return, you should have received your payment from the IRS.

Second stimulus check:

Your payment was 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 2020 Non-Filer tool or you submitted a simplified tax return that has been processed by the IRS.

Third stimulus check

Your payment was sent to you automatically 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 2020 Non-Filer tool or you submitted a simplified tax return that has been processed by the IRS.

How do I claim my stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit on my 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. You will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the first and second stimulus checks and a 2021 tax return to get the third stimulus check. You can reference the sample 2020 tax form to complete both tax returns.

For your 2020 tax return, on Line 30 (Recovery rebate credit), you will need to put the amount the IRS owes you for the first and second stimulus check.

For your 2021 tax return, on Line 30 (Recovery rebate credit), you will need to put the amount the IRS owes you for the third stimulus check.

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

  1. 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.

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.

Will the amount of my stimulus checks be reduced if I have overdue prison debts or other unpaid debts?

Yes, if you are claiming the first and second stimulus check as part of your Recovery Rebate Tax Credit, the payments are not protected from past-due child support payments, creditor and debt collectors, and other federal or state debt that you owe (see IRS FAQ  Q E3). This means that if you receive your stimulus checks as part of your tax refund instead of as direct checks, they are not protected from garnishment and may be reduced.

There used to be protections on stimulus checks but they no longer apply when claiming them on your tax return.

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 refer to IRS Notice 1444 (first stimulus check) and Notice 1444-B (second stimulus check) that were mailed to you to see the amounts of these payments or check your bank statements if your checks were direct deposited.

You can also view the amounts 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.

If you haven’t gotten your stimulus checks by now, you will need to file your federal tax return to claim them as the Recovery Rebate Credit. You will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the first and second stimulus checks and a 2021 tax return to get the third stimulus check. Click here to learn about free tax filing services.

Learn more about how to get your stimulus checks.

I used the IRS 2020 Non-Filer tool/filed a 2019 tax return, but I haven’t received my first and 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 have not received your first and/or second stimulus check, you will have to claim your stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. Click here to learn about free tax filing services.

Learn more about how to get your stimulus checks.

I used the IRS 2021 Non-Filer tool/GetCTC/filed a 2020 tax return, but I haven’t received my third stimulus check. What do I do?

You can check the status of your third stimulus check using the IRS Get My Payment tool.

The IRS will continue to send third stimulus checks until December 31, 2021. If your 2020 tax return or the information you submitted through the IRS 2021 Non-Filer tool or GetCTC is not processed in time to issue your payment by the deadline, you will need to claim your third stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2021 tax return. Click here to learn about free tax filing services.

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 first and second stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. Click here to learn about free tax filing services.

Learn more about how to get your stimulus checks.

Need More Help?

If you need help claiming your first, second, and/or third payment as the Recovery Rebate tax credit on your tax returns, you can:

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.

Recommended for you


The latest