Shifting eligibility for stimulus checks can be confusing for taxpayers wondering if they’re in line for more money from the government program that pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy during the pandemic.
In the rush to get those payments out, the IRS relied on data it already had to determine who was eligible. That means some people didn’t receive the full amount they were owed, while others didn’t get a check at all.
This filing season offers a chance to rectify that situation. That’s because the payments were structured as advances on a 2020 tax credit, which can now be claimed on returns.
With filing season underway, a second round of payments still being processed, and a third under discussion, here is what you need to know about this unusual, but popular, emergency program.
How Much Should I Have Gotten?
Congress authorized two rounds of direct payments, first in March, then in late December.
- The March payment maxed out at $1,200 ($2,400 for married joint filers), plus $500 for each dependent under 17 years old.
- The December payment maxed out at $600 ($1,200 for married joint filers), plus $600 for each dependent under 17 years old.
Eligibility works on a sliding scale. The adjusted gross income thresholds to receive full payments are $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for people who file as head of household, and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly.
People earning above those thresholds can still be eligible for a smaller payment. The payments phase out at a 5% rate, which means a $50 cut for every $1,000 you are over the threshold.
Why Didn’t I Get The Full Payment?
To send money as soon as possible, Congress ordered the IRS to use existing data. That meant for the first round of payments, authorized in March, the IRS relied on reported income from either 2018 or 2019 tax returns.
Relying on old data led to some people slipping through the cracks, including:
- People who saw their income drop in 2020, putting them below the thresholds outlined above.
- People who don’t file an annual return because they don’t earn enough taxable income. That includes seniors who only receive Social Security benefits.
- New parents who should have received a supplemental payment for a dependent.
There are also some people that may have accidentally thrown away physical checks or debit cards containing their payment. Some of the first round of payments—those sent as debit cards—were sent in generic envelopes in an attempt to avoid theft. which some recipients understandably, but unfortunately, mistook as junk mail.
If you haven’t gotten a second payment yet, but think you will, you can check the status of your payment here.
I Should Have Received More. What Do I Do?
File your tax return! The sooner you file your taxes, the sooner the IRS will pay out the difference.
Pay particular attention to line 30 of your Form 1040, which asks about a ‘Recovery Rebate Credit.’
The IRS is looking for you to calculate the difference between what you did receive and what you should have received. Full instructions for how to do that are available on Page 58 of this document, but here is an example:
A couple who received $3,600 in stimulus money ($2,400 per couple in round one, $1,200 per in round two), but had their first child in 2020, would be able to claim the dependent supplements they didn’t get. One line 30, they would claim a credit of $1,100 ($500 for round one plus $600 for round two).
I Got More Than I Should Have. Do I Have to Pay It Back?
If you were fortunate enough to receive a raise in 2020 that put you above the income threshold, you won’t have to pay back the difference.
If you want to return any of the money you received through the program, extra or not, consult these instructions from the IRS.
Is A Third Round of Payments on the Way?
Signs point to yes, though the details are far from set, so don’t count on it yet.
The Biden administration has proposed another round of payments of up to $1,400 per taxpayer. Conversations are ongoing about whether the next round should come with tighter income restrictions.
Legislation released earlier this week by the House Ways and Means Committee would keep the income thresholds the same as the last two payments, but scale down faster for people earning more. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a Democrat who may represent the last vote needed to pass another aid package, has pushed for lower income thresholds so payments would start phasing out at $50,000 for individuals.
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