What to know about the First Stimulus Check

Last updated 1/19/2021

Congress approved a second and third round of stimulus checks for continued COVID relief. Learn more about the second stimulus check and the third stimulus check.

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). 

Economic Impact Payments –commonly referred to as “stimulus checks” or “recovery rebates”– are a key provision of the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act legislation that Congress passed to help reduce the financial burden of COVID-19 on individuals and their families. The payments are an advance of a temporary credit for 2020 (which you file taxes for in 2021).

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1. Will I get an Economic Impact Payment?

If you meet the following four requirements, you likely qualify for the stimulus.

1. Income Limits: If you are filing as single with an adjusted gross income (AGI) up to $75,000, married filing jointly with an AGI up to $150,000, or head of household with an AGI up to $112,500, you will receive the full payment. Above these income limits, the payment amount decreases 5 percent for every additional $100 of income up to $99,000 for a single adult, $136,500 for head of household, and $198,00 for a married couple.

If you have zero income you can still get the payment.

2. Age requirements: There is no age requirement for the stimulus check, however you cannot be someone else’s dependent. Children must be under 17 to get the additional payment for them.

3. Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN): At least one tax filer must have a valid Social Security number (SSN). If you are married filing jointly, and one spouse has an SSN and one has an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), the spouse with an SSN and any children with SSNs or an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN) can get the payment. (Children with ITINs don’t qualify for payments.) If one spouse is an active member of the military, then both spouses are eligible for a stimulus check even if only one spouse has an SSN and the other spouse has an ITIN.

The COVID relief legislation passed in December 2020 modified this requirement. Previously, a valid SSN was required to receive a check. If you were married filing jointly, both spouses needed to have SSNs (one for military). If one spouse had an ITIN, then both spouses were ineligible for the stimulus check. For married military couples, the spouse with an SSN could still get the stimulus check for themselves but not the other spouse with an ITIN.

If you were denied your first stimulus payment because you or your spouse did not have an SSN, you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return.

4. Citizenship or Residency: You must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien. 

2. How much money will I get from the stimulus check?

Eligible taxpayers will receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples. Up to $500 is provided for each qualifying child who is a dependent under 17.

3. Will I get an Economic Impact Payment for my child?

You will receive an additional $500 per qualifying child. A qualifying child must be related to you (by blood, marriage, or adoption), under the age of 17, live with you for over half the year, have a Social Security number, and be claimed as your dependent. These are the same qualifying rules as for the Child Tax Credit.

4. Can I get an Economic Impact Payment if I am incarcerated?

Yes. Learn more about how people who are incarcerated can get stimulus checks here.

5. What if I owe child support payments, owe back taxes, or student loan debt?

If you are overdue on child support, you could see your stimulus check reduced or eliminated based on the amount you owe. The Bureau of the Fiscal Service will send you a notice if this happens.

Your payment will not be interrupted if you owe back taxes or have student loan debt; you will receive the full amount.

If you use direct deposit and owe your bank overdraft fees, the bank may deduct these from your payment.

6. What if I get government benefits? Will these payments count against eligibility? Or unemployment insurance?

Economic Impact Payments don’t count against means-tested programs like SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid. The payments are not counted as income during the month they are received and the following month and they are not counted as a resource for 12 months.

You will receive the check regardless of your employment status. The check will not impact your eligibility for unemployment payments.

7. Are Economic Impact Payments taxable? Will I owe the IRS money next year?

Payments are non-taxable. You will not be required to pay anything back next year.

Getting your Economic Impact Payment

8. How do I get my stimulus check?

If you’ve filed a tax return for tax year 2019 or 2018, you don’t need to do anything. The IRS will automatically send your payment. Social Security recipients, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), railroad retirees, and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries will also automatically receive a check. 

If you aren’t normally required to file a tax returnyou can fill out an online form with the IRS. To start, you’ll need an email address. You’ll also need to provide your full name (and name of spouse, if present), mailing address, date of birth, Social Security number, bank account information (if available), driver’s license or state-issued ID (if you have one), and details for any qualifying children you have. 

If you are married filing separately, you cannot use the IRS Non-filer form and must file a 2019 tax return to get your payment (even if you don’t normally file taxes). 

9. What if I don’t have an email address?

If you don’t need to file taxes to get your stimulus payment, you will need an email address to complete the online form. The IRS will not email info about your payment. If you don’t have an email address, you can create one for free through a webmail provider like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail. If you don’t want to create an email address, ask a family member or friend to use their email

If youre doing the online form yourself, you can also create a temporary email address using a site like 10minutemail.com or guerrillamail.com. These sites allow you to check messages sent to the address for a short period of time which will allow you to confirm your account and form submission.

10. How will I receive my stimulus check?

If you filed a tax return for tax year 2019 or 2018, the IRS will use your tax return information to determine the amount of your payment and will deliver it using the direct deposit information (if provided) or mailing address on the return. Social Security recipients, railroad retirees, and SSDI, SSI, and VA beneficiaries will be sent the payment using the information the Social Security Administration currently has on file. 

If you fill out the online form, you can provide direct deposit information if you have it. If not, the IRS will mail your check to the address you list on the form.   

11. Can I get my stimulus check on a debit card?  

In May, the IRS issued 4 million debit cards with stimulus payments. The IRS selected recipients. You cannot request your stimulus on a debit card. The IRS has not indicated whether it will deliver future payments via debit card.   

12. When will I get the stimulus check?

The fastest way to receive the payment is through direct deposit. Most people received their stimulus checks automaticallyThe IRS started distributing payments to people who already filed a 2019 or 2018 tax return and provided direct deposit information on April 9. Payments continued to be delivered through direct deposit throughout the month. Paper checks started to be mailed to people without direct deposit information at the end of April. Mailed payments are expected to have a significant delivery delay and some people will not receive payments for several months. See the chart at the end of this article for an estimated timetable for the IRS to mail checks. 

If you fill out the online form yourself, allow at least two weeks to get your payment through direct deposit or four weeks or more to receive your check in the mail.  

The IRS’ Get My Payment tool allows you to look up the status of your payment, including the date when the payment is scheduled to be deposited or mailed. 

13. Is there a deadline to get my stimulus check?

The IRS must have your information by November 21, 2020 to issue your payment this year. If you are not required to file taxes, this means completing the online form. See question 8 on how to get the payment for more information. 

If you receive Social Security, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI); OR are a railroad retiree or Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary, you must send information to the IRS by November 21, 2020 to get your additional stimulus payment for your qualifying children this year. Use the IRS Non-filer tool to add the names and Social Security Numbers for your dependents. 

If you miss either deadline you will be able to get your payment in 2021 by filing a 2020 tax return. 

14. How can I file my taxes?

If you know you need to file a 2019 tax return, you should do so as soon as possible to get your Economic Impact Payment and any tax refund that you are eligible for.

Online: If you’re comfortable using computers and confident preparing your own taxes, consider using a free online tax software. IRS Free File is one option available if your income is $69,000 or less. If you choose to use one of the programs that are part of this coalition, be careful to read the fine print. (Each program has slightly different criteria for their software). MyFreeTaxes is another online tool that helps you file your taxes for free. Unlike Free File, MyFreeTaxes does not have an income limit.

Your local VITA site may also have virtual options. Some VITA programs provide a drop-off site, where you can drop off your tax forms to have a tax preparer complete your return and contact you when it is ready to review before it is sent to the IRS. Look up your local VITA program and call to see if this is a service they provide.

15. Can I file my taxes with a paper return?

If you have not filed your taxes yet and still need to, file electronically if possible. IRS processing of paper returns is delayed due to COVID-19. If you need to complete the IRS non-filer form because you aren’t normally required to file taxes, you can get help from United Way’s 211 Economic Impact Helpline.

16. What if I don’t have an address?

Shelters and other service providers, such as health care clinics and drop-in day centers, may allow you to use their address for tax purposes. Other agencies that offer homeless prevention services like a Community Action Agency or Salvation Army are also options. If you are not staying in a shelter or cannot find a service provider nearby, you can also use a trusted relative’s or friend’s address. The IRS will deliver checks to P.O. boxes.

17. What if I don’t have a bank account?

If you don’t have a bank account, a paper check will be sent to the address you listed on your tax return.

Direct deposit is the quickest and safest way to get payments. Alternatives to receiving a paper check are opening a bank account or using a prepaid debit card. Once you get a card, you may need to contact the company directly to find the account and routing numbers needed for direct deposit. To find a bank, you can view this list of accounts offered by financial institutions that meet national standards. You can also use payment apps like CashApp, Venmo, or PayPal.

Do not provide the bank account information for someone else. Different names on the tax return and bank account will trigger a reject of the deposit, causing the IRS to send you a paper check which will delay the delivery of your payment.

18. How can I get help completing the IRS non-filer form?

The United Way has created a 211 Economic Impact Payment Helpline: 1-844-322-3639. It operates 24/7 with live agents available 8 am –  8 pm ET M-F through November 21, 2020. If you have internet access, the helpline can assist you with completing the form. It can also answer specific questions you may have about the payments, including eligibility. Help is available in 180 languages.

19. How can I get my Stimulus Payment faster?

The quickest way to get your payment is through direct deposit. Beware of scams! The IRS will not contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media to request personal information – especially banking details – or ask you to provide a “processing” fee. They will send written correspondence with instructions on steps to take and the timeframe for action. Remember, you do not need to pay to get this money.

Additionally, the IRS refers to this money as an “Economic Impact Payment.” Communications that use “stimulus check” or “recovery rebate” are unlikely to be from the IRS. Hang up on phone calls you receive and delete email or text messages that seem too good to be true. You can report scams to the Better Business Bureau to helps protect others.


20. How will I get my payment if I got a Refund Anticipation Check (RAC) or Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) when I filed my taxes?

The IRS will attempt to deliver your payment to the account information provided on your tax return. Some RALs and RACs are issued through debit cards. If the card is still active, you will receive your payment on the card. If the account or card is no longer active, the deposit will be rejected, and the IRS will send a paper check to the address on the tax return. You can check Get My Payment for updates on your payment delivery. If you see that the payment has been directly deposited into an account that you don’t have access to, contact the tax preparer who filed your return. If you are unable to reach them, contact your local Low Income Tax Clinic or Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) office for help.

21. What if I’ve had changes since filing my 2019 tax return (e.g. had a child, moved, got divorced, etc.)?

The IRS will still use information on your 2019 tax return to determine your payment amount. If you had a child, you will be able to get the additional $500 for them when you file your taxes next year.

If you got divorced and no longer live at the address on your tax return, or if you moved, the process is trickier. Normally, the IRS requires you to submit address changes by mail, however the IRS is not processing paper forms. If you received a paper check, you can notify the post office that services your old address so that it can forward the check (not all post offices forward government checks). Alternatively, you can try to provide direct deposit information using the IRS Get My Payment tool. Whether the IRS is able to successfully update your information before delivering the payment will depend on timing.

If you included direct deposit information for a joint account on a 2019 tax return and have closed that account or you are no longer married, the IRS will still attempt to deliver the payment to that account. Once it is rejected, they will issue a paper check using the address on the 2019 return. If the account is still open and you don’t have access to it but your ex-spouse does, the situation is more complex and will take time to resolve. You may need to wait to file a 2020 tax return before getting the payment. Contact your local Low Income Taxpayer Clinic or local Taxpayer Advocate Service  for help.

22. What can I do if the amount of my stimulus payment is wrong?

If you didn’t get the additional $500 for your children or didn’t get the full payment amount that you expected based on your eligibility, you can get the additional amount by filing a 2020 tax return in 2021. 

If you receive Social Security, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI); OR are a railroad retiree or Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary, you can get your additional stimulus for your children this year if you provide the IRS information about your dependents by November 21, 2020Learn more about qualifying dependents here. 

If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return, your incorrect stimulus amount could be from a math error on the tax return. Call the IRS EIP Hotline at 1-800-919-9835 or your local Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) office to resolve the math error so the IRS can issue your missing payment.   

23. I already filed my tax return and still haven’t gotten my payment. What can I do?

If you recently filed taxes, the IRS may still be processing your return. The IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit info if you owed federal taxes, didn’t get a refund, or had your refund mailed. Use the Get My Payment tool to add your direct deposit details to get your payment sooner. If you don’t have an account for direct deposit and cannot establish one, your payment will be mailed by check. 

The IRS Get My Payment tool allows you to check on the status of your payment. It can take up to two weeks after filing a tax return or completing the online form for a status update to appear in Get My Payment 

If it’s been more than two weeks and you still get the “Status Not Available” message when you use Get My Payment, the IRS does not have all the information it needs to confirm your eligibility and calculate your payment. Recheck your confirmation email to make sure that your information was successfully accepted by the IRS. If it was, call the IRS EIP Hotline at 800-919-9835. 

24. What if my stimulus check was lost, stolen, or destroyed? 

If you provided direct deposit information to get your payment, first check with your bank, payment app, or debit card company to make sure they didn’t receive it. 

You can request a trace of your stimulus check if you got Notice 1444 in the mail or if Get My Payment shows your payment was issued on a specific date, you havengotten it, and its been more than: 

  • 5 days since the scheduled deposit date 
  • 4 weeks since it was mailed by check to a mailing address 
  • 6 weeks since it was mailed, and you have a forwarding address on file with the local post office 

To start a trace of your stimulus check, call the IRS EIP Hotline at 1-800-919-9835 (expect long wait times due to limited staffing). Alternatively, you can complete and mail Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund using the guidance found here (under Q3). Once the IRS receives your trace request, plan to wait at least six weeks for a response. 

25. I got my stimulus check on a debit card and lost it or threw it out. How can I get a new one? 

You can request a replacement by calling 800-240-8100. Select option 2 from the main menu. Your card will arrive in a plain envelope labeled “Money Network Cardholder Services” and will be issued by “Meta Bank, N.A.” The envelope will include instructions to activate the card, information on fees, and a note from the U.S. Treasury.

26. What if I filed my taxes last year under my previous name, and have changed my name since I filed those taxes? 

If you file taxes and have not filed your 2019 taxes, you should file as soon as possible with your new name. Make sure your name is updated with the Social Security Administration.  

If your stimulus check is written out to you under your previous legal name, you should still be able to deposit your check. However, you may need to speak with your bank and show your legal paperwork documenting your courtordered name change and old and new ID.  

If you are cashing a check outside of a bank, bring your legal documents with you and try to call in advance to make sure that they don’t have additional requirements to cash the check.  


All information on this site is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or tax advice. The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities is not liable for how you use this information. Please seek a tax professional for personal tax advice.

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