What to know about the First Stimulus Check

Last updated 11/12/2021

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.

In 2022, you can visit GetYourRefund.org to 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.

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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Eligibility

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 $198,000 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 or when you use GetCTC.org (available through November 15, 2021) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

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 or owe back taxes or student loan debt, 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 or submitted your information to the 2020 IRS Non-filer portal, you don’t need to do anything. The IRS should’ve automatically sent your payment. Social Security recipients, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), railroad retirees, and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) and Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries should’ve also automatically received a check.

All first stimulus checks were issued by December 31, 2020. If you are missing your stimulus check or didn’t get the full amount that you are eligible for, you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return or by using GetCTC.org (available until November 15) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

To use GetCTC.org, you’ll need a phone number or 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), 2019 Adjusted Gross Income (if available), and details for any qualifying children you have.

Learn more about GetCTC.

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

If you aren’t required to file taxes, you can use either a phone number or email address to complete the form on GetCTC.org (available until November 15, 2021) to get your stimulus payment as the Recovery Rebate Credit. If you don’t have a phone, you must use an email address. An email is also used when filing a tax return to establish an account and verify identity. Help people establish an email address. GmailYahoo! Mail, or AOL are free options (Yahoo! Mail and AOL requires you to verify a phone number). If you don’t want to create an email address, ask a family member or friend to use their email.

10. How will I receive my stimulus check?

If you filed a tax return for tax year 2019 or 2018 or used the 2020 IRS Non-filer portal, the IRS used your information to determine the amount of your payment and delivered it using the direct deposit information (if provided), or mailing address you provided. Social Security recipients, railroad retirees, and SSDI, SSI, and VA beneficiaries were sent the payment using the information the Social Security Administration currently has on file.

All first stimulus checks were issued by December 31, 2020. If you are missing your stimulus check or didn’t get the full amount that you are eligible for, you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return or use GetCTC.org (available until November 15, 2021) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

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?

All first stimulus checks were issued by December 31, 2020. If you are missing your stimulus check or didn’t get the full amount that you are eligible for, you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return or use GetCTC.org (available until November 15, 2021) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

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

All first stimulus checks were issued by December 31, 2020. If you are missing your stimulus check or didn’t get the full amount that you are eligible for, you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return or use GetCTC.org if you don’t have a filing requirement. You must use GetCTC.org by November 15, 2021.

If you’re required to file taxes:

The deadline to file your 2020 tax return was May 17, 2021. The tax filing extension deadline is October 15, 2021. Many tax filing software programs close after this date. If you can find an online tax filing program that is still accepting 2020 tax returns, you can file a tax return to get your stimulus checks even though the deadline has passed.

If you don’t owe taxes, there is no penalty for filing late. If you owe taxes, you may be subject to penalties and fines for not filing or not paying taxes. The government may reduce your tax refund to pay for any taxes you owe and other federal and state debts.

To learn more about your options if you think you owe taxes, read “Filing Past Due Tax Returns” and “What to Do if I Owe Taxes but Can’t Pay Them.”

If you’re not required to file taxes:

The deadline to use GetCTC.org is November 15, 2021. You can get the Recovery Rebate Credit using GetCTC.org, a simplified tax filing portal for non-filers. GetCTC is an IRS-approved service created by Code for America in partnership with the White House and U.S. Department of Treasury. You can use the portal even if you’re not signing up for the Child Tax Credit advance payments.

14. How can I file my taxes?

If you know you need to file a 2020 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. MyFreeTaxes is an online tool that helps you file your taxes for free. You can use these online programs until November 20, 2021.

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

Yes, however it is not recommended. 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. You can use GetCTC.org if you aren’t normally required to file taxes, and get support from the chat function on the site, where you can communicate with an IRS-certified volunteer to help you complete the form. GetCTC.org is available through November 15, 2021.

If you must file a paper return, you can download the tax forms from IRS.gov or use an online tax software program to complete your return and print it instead of filing electronically. If you need to file a paper return and do not have internet access, ask a trusted friend or relative for help.

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 GetCTC.org?

All first stimulus checks were issued by December 31, 2020. If you didn’t get your first stimulus check in 2020 or didn’t get the full amount you are eligible for and you don’t have a filing requirement, you can use GetCTC.org. GetCTC has a chat box that you can use to communicate with an IRS-certified volunteer to help you complete the form. GetCTC.org is available through November 15, 2021.

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.

Troubleshooting

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 request a payment trace to track where and how your payment was delivered. You should only request a payment trace if you received IRS Notice 1444 showing that your first stimulus check was issued or if your IRS account shows your payment amount and you haven’t received your first stimulus check. See Question 24 to learn more about how to request a payment trace.

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

The IRS used information on your 2019 tax return to determine your payment amount if you didn’t file a 2020 tax return or if it wasn’t processed in time.

If you had a child, you will be able to get the additional $500 for them when you file your 2020 tax return (which you file in 2021) or use GetCTC.org (available until November 15, 2021) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

If you moved and the first stimulus check was not delivered to you, you may need to request a payment trace so the IRS can determine if your payment was cashed (See Question 24 to learn more about how to request a payment trace). If your payment wasn’t cashed, you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return or by using GetCTC.org (available until November 15) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

If you got divorced and no longer live at the address on your tax return or included direct deposit information for a joint account and you are no longer married, this may be a complex matter that should be discussed with a tax professional.

Unfortunately, if the first stimulus check was issued, the IRS treats the payment as being received by both spouses, even if both people didn’t get the money. If the payment went only to your ex-spouse, the IRS views this as a personal legal matter that you should discuss with your divorce attorney. You can also contact your local Low Income Taxpayer Clinic or local Taxpayer Advocate Service for help.

Exception: If a 2018 or 2019 joint tax return was filed without your consent or signed under duress, you may be able to claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Credit. Click here for specific information on what to do to show that your joint return was invalid.

Learn more if you are separated and divorced and your stimulus check went to your spouse.

 

 

 

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 (which you file in 2021) or use GetCTC.org (available until November 15, 2021) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

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, and didn’t get the first stimulus check or the full amount you are eligible for, you will also have to file a 2020 tax return (which you file in 2021) or use GetCTC.org if you don’t have a filing requirement.

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

If you filed a 2019 tax return and it wasn’t processed in time to issue your first stimulus check by December 31, 2020,  you can claim your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit on your 2020 tax return or use GetCTC.org (available until November 15, 2021) if you don’t have a filing requirement.

If you filed your 2020 tax return, the IRS may still be processing your return. The fastest way to receive the payment is through direct deposit. Your first stimulus check, which you claim as the Recovery Rebate Credit, will be sent as part of your tax refund. You can check the status of your tax refund using the IRS tool Where’s My Refund.

Because of COVID-19, it is taking more than 21 days for the IRS to issue refunds for certain mailed and e-filed 2020 tax returns that require review.

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

If your payment was direct deposited, 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 to determine if your payment was cashed. Only request a payment trace if you received IRS Notice 1444 showing that your first stimulus check was issued or if your IRS account shows your payment amount and you haven’t received your first stimulus check.

How to start a payment trace: You can mail or fax Form 3911 to the IRS or call 800-829-1954. Click here for specific instructions on how to complete Form 3911 for tracking your first stimulus check.

If the IRS discovers that your check was not cashed, your check will be reversed. You can now claim the payment.

If the IRS discovers that your check was cashed, the Treasury Department will send you a claim package with instructions. Upon review of your claim, the Treasury Department will determine if the check can be reversed. If the check is reversed, you can now claim the payment.

If the check is not reversed, 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.

It can take up to 6 weeks to receive a response from the IRS.

If you don’t request a payment trace and try claiming your first stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return or on GetCTC.org, you may receive an error message if the IRS believes you already received your payment.

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 which displays the U.S. Treasury seal and “Economic Impact Payment Card” in the return address. It 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.  

Need Additional Help?

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

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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