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6 Ways to Get a Stimulus Payment in 2021

If you missed out on a check in 2020, you might be able to file a claim next year

stack of 100 dollar bills with coronavirus stimulus payment check and alarm clock

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En español | The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has mailed out more than 140 million economic stimulus payments, so most people have already received their payments for 2020. But you might have the opportunity to get CARES Act stimulus money in 2021, assuming you didn't get what you were entitled to in 2020.

The stimulus payments are worth up to $1,200 for each eligible adult and $500 for dependent children under 17. The payment for individuals will shrink by $5 for every $100 earned over $75,000. For couples who filed jointly, the reduction will start once they earn more than $150,000; for heads of household, at $112,500.

Although the IRS is still churning out paper checks and debit cards, it's possible that you'll have to get your stimulus payment — or part of it — when you file your 2020 tax return next year.

1. Claim $500 for dependents under 17 who were missed in 2020.

You may have gotten your stimulus payment automatically because you were a non-tax filer receiving Social Security, Supplementary Security Income (SSI) or Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. If you didn't notify the IRS that you had a dependent under 17, however, you probably didn't get the additional $500. You can get that by filing your return for the 2020 tax year. The same is true for other non-tax filers with eligible children under 17. (AARP has urged IRS and Treasury to ensure people can receive their $500 dependent child payments as soon as possible, instead of having to wait until 2021.)

2. Claim difference if you were underpaid in 2020.

Your stimulus check is based on your 2019 or 2018 adjusted gross income (AGI). Let's say that you file a single federal income tax return, and your 2019 AGI was $100,000 — too much to get a stimulus payment, which phases out at $99,000 for individuals. But in 2020, you were laid off, and your AGI was $70,000. When you file your 2020 tax return, you can claim the $1,200 stimulus payment. Similarly, if you received a partial payment because of your 2019 AGI, but your income has fallen, you can get additional money from the IRS when you file your 2020 federal income tax return, up to the $1,200 limit per person.


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3. Claim $1,200 if you were a child dependent in 2019, but not in 2020. 

If your parents claimed you as a dependent in 2019 when you were under 17 but don't do so for the 2020 tax year, you can file a tax return for 2020 and get a $1,200 stimulus payment, even if your income is so low that you're not required to file a return. Remember, it's a refundable tax credit for $1,200, which means you're eligible to get $1,200 even if your income was zero in 2020.

4. Claim $1,200 if you were an adult dependent in 2019, but not in 2020.

Let's say your adult children were taking care of you in 2019 and claimed you as a dependent on their 2019 tax return. They wouldn't get the additional $500 for a dependent because you're older than 16. If they don't claim you in 2020, you could get a stimulus payment for $1,200 when you file your 2020 federal income taxes. Be aware, however, that if your children are still taking care of you and don't claim you as a dependent, the IRS might look askance at your claim of no longer being a dependent. The same is true for high school and college-age adults claimed by their parents as dependents in 2019 but not in 2020.

5. Claim $500 if you had a baby or adopted a child in 2020. 

For taxpayers, the IRS based stimulus payments on 2018 or 2019 tax returns, including whether or not an additional $500 payment was due per child under 17. But if your child was born or adopted in 2020, then the dependent wasn't indicated on your prior tax returns. Claim children born or adopted in 2020 on your 2020 tax return to get the extra $500 stimulus payment per eligible child.

6. Claim $1,200 if you simply forgot to do so in 2020. 

Let's say you're a 20-year-old college student and your parents didn't claim you as a dependent on their tax return in 2019. You didn't make enough money in 2018 or 2019 to file a tax return because, hey, you're a college student. And somehow you didn't hear about the IRS Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool, because, hey, you were busy being a college student. You can still claim your $1,200 stimulus payment next year on your 2020 tax return (or, if you aren't too busy, rush to use the IRS tool or file a 2019 tax return to try to get your stimulus payment sooner). The same is true for low-wage earners who typically aren't required to file tax returns.

Some people will never get a stimulus payment. If you're in jail or don't have a Social Security number, you're not eligible for a stimulus payment. (It may go without saying, but dead people also are ineligible.) If you owe child support, your stimulus payment can be garnished for the entire amount. It's possible other private debt collectors will try to garnish your payment, too.

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