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

By Christine Tran, 2021 Get It Back Campaign Intern

Last updated 01/12/2024

The IRS has issued all first, second, and third stimulus checks for COVID relief. Learn more about the first stimulus check and the second stimulus check.

It’s not too late to claim any missed stimulus checks. 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 must file a 2020 tax return by May 17, 2024.

To claim your first, second, or third stimulus checks for free, visit GetYourRefund.org which opens January 31, 2024.

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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: You can qualify if you have no 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).

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 Adoption Taxpayer Identification Numbers (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: You can qualify if you have no income. Your 2019 or 2020 income is under $80,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $160,000 (married filing jointly).

How can I get my stimulus checks?

The IRS has sent out all first, second, and third stimulus checks. If you didn’t receive one or more of your stimulus checks, you can still get them 

First and second stimulus checks

You can get your first and second stimulus check by claiming them as the Recovery Rebate Credit when you file a 2020 federal tax return (this is a past-year tax return). Click here to learn about getting missed stimulus checks. You can file your taxes virtually by going to GetYourRefund.org which opens January 31, 2024. You must file a 2020 tax return by May 17, 2024.

Third stimulus check

To get 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 how to get your missed third stimulus check.

What is the Recovery Rebate Credit?

The Recovery Rebate Credit is a tax credit you can get if you were eligible for stimulus checks and didn’t receive them or got less than the full amount. You can claim the credit for the first and second stimulus checks when you file a 2020 tax return. To get the third stimulus check you must claim the credit when you file a 2021 tax returnYou must file a 2020 tax return by May 17, 2024.

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

  1. By Mail: Root and Rebound has a Stimulus Payment FAQs Packet that includes:
    • IRS instructions on how people who are incarcerated can file a 2020 tax return (pages 9-11) 
    • Blank IRS tax forms that you can print and fill out for tax year 2020 (pages 7-9) and 2021 (pages 3-4)  
    • A completed sample IRS 2020 tax form you can reference (pages 13-14)  

You will need to file a 2020 tax return by May 17, 2024, to get the first and second stimulus checks and a 2021 tax return by April 18, 2025, 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. 

To learn more about where to mail your completed tax form, click here.

  1. Electronically: You can use free tax software, such as MyFreeTaxes or GetYourRefund 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.   

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, second, and/or third 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?

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. 

Information about the first, second, and third stimulus checks is no longer available on the IRS Get My Payment tool. To check the amount of issued stimulus checks, you can refer to IRS Notice 1444 (first stimulus check),Notice 1444-B (second stimulus check), and Notice 1444-C (third 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 legal name, email, and Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). 
  2. Photo identification:Driver’s license, State ID, Passport, or Passport Card. If you don’t have one of these, you may still be able to create an account using a combination of documents described here 
  3. A computer OR cell phone with a front-facing camera and access to the internet:You can use either a computer or a cell phone to create an account.  

Once you’ve created your account, you can check if you received the Recovery Rebate Credit:

  1. Log into your IRS account with your username and password. 
  2. Click Tax Records at the top of the menu, then click Transcript.
  3. Select the reason you need the transcript. (This is required. If you aren’t sure which applies to you, you can select Other.)  
  4. Look for the box that says, Return Transcript and select the year you need, 2020 or 2021
  5. Open the search function in your browser and type recovery rebate. 
  6. If you see an amount listed on this section of your transcript, that means you received the credit. 

Learn more about how to get your stimulus checks. 

I filed my taxes months ago and I still havent received my stimulus payments. What should I do? 

If you filed your tax return and are waiting for your refund, do NOT send the IRS another tax return for the same year. Filing again before the IRS processes your original return will put your return at the back of the line, causing you to have to wait longer.  

If the IRS states that they have issued your stimulus payments and you haven’t received them, you can request a payment trace to track your payment. The IRS can track your payment after you wait: 

  • 5 days, if the payment was sent by direct deposit 
  • 4 weeks, if the payment was mailed by check to a standard address 
  • 6 weeks, if the payment was mailed to a forwarded address on file with the local post office 
  • 9 weeks after the payment was mailed to a foreign address 

To start a payment trace mail or fax a completed IRS Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund to the IRS or call 800-829-1954. 

I used the IRS 2020 or 2021 Non-Filer tool, or filed a 2019 or a 2020 tax return, but I haven’t received my stimulus check(s). What do I do? 

The IRS has issued all first, second, and third stimulus checks. If you have not received your first, second, or third stimulus check, you will have to claim your stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit. You will need to file a 2020 tax return to claim the first or second stimulus checks and file a 2021 tax return to claim the third stimulus check. You must file a 2020 tax return by May 17, 2024.Click here to learn about free tax filing services. 

Learn more about how to get your stimulus checks. 

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

The IRS sent aletterto prison officials explaining 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. You can file a 2020 tax form to get your first and second stimulus checks, and/or a 2021 tax form to get your third stimulus. Include a letter asking for your payment by check because you cannot get debit cards in prison. It may be helpful to contact Metabank, the debit card company, to report your card as lost. You can ask that they cancel the debit card and then inform the IRS you didn’t receive the money so the IRS can issue you a check.

For questions unanswered by the Root and Rebound Stimulus Payments FAQs Packet, you can contact the IRS for assistance. 

Learn more about how to get your missing 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: 


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