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How to Claim a Missing Stimulus Check

Getting a missing check can be difficult but worth the trouble

A U.S. Treasury economic impact payment check can be seen in a display of hundred dollar bills

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Nobody wants to leave money on the table, especially a stimulus payment from the U.S. government that they’re eligible for but didn’t receive. In late January the Internal Revenue Service announced that all third-round stimulus checks (officially dubbed economic impact payments, or EIPs) had been sent. But the IRS also noted that not all eligible Americans received the full amount they’re entitled to.

The good news? There’s still time to get what’s owed to you.

Uncle Sam — which issued 175 million third-round payments, totaling over $400 billion, through the end of 2021 — reminded people that they can claim any remaining stimulus money they’re entitled to but didn’t get by claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2021 income tax return.

The rebate, which comes as a tax credit of up to $1,400 per eligible person on your 2021 return, will either lower the amount of tax you owe or boost the size of your refund. “The golden prize of a tax return is a tax credit,” says Mark Steber, chief tax information officer at Jackson Hewitt, a tax preparation service. “The Recovery Rebate Credit is a dollar-for-dollar tax-liability offset.”

Why you may not have gotten all your “stimmy” money

The third-round stimulus payments, authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and signed into law on March 11, 2021, were sent from March through December last year. Round 3 of the so-called stimmies (a common slang term for stimulus payments) provided a maximum credit of $1,400 per person, including all qualifying dependents claimed on a tax return.

A married couple with two qualifying dependents, for example, are eligible to receive a maximum credit of $5,600, depending on income limits. And if you brought a baby into the world last year, you’ll be able to file for up to $1,400 that you’re owed for your new family member if you claim the child as a dependent.

The size of the credit, however, gets reduced for single filers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of more than $75,000 and for married couples filing jointly with earnings of more than $150,000. For heads of household, the credit is reduced between $120,000 and $112,500.

The credit disappears entirely for individuals with AGI above $80,000 and for married couples filing jointly who earn more than $160,000. Heads of household with incomes of more than $120,000 also don’t get the stimulus check. Most eligible Americans have already received the payments, according to the IRS. 

Some people may not have received all of their third-round stimulus money because the IRS based the EIPs on the income and number of dependents listed on a person’s 2019 or 2020 tax return. But the full amount of the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit is based on a person’s 2021 return. So if an individual’s circumstances changed last year, such as by adding a baby (which means an additional dependent) or earning less money (which could result in someone’s becoming eligible for a stimulus payment), the IRS has not factored those changes into their payment amounts, because the agency wasn’t aware of the changes before sending out the checks.

“Anyone that had a baby in 2021 is eligible, as there is no way the IRS would know that, so they definitely want to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert at TurboTax, the online tax preparation software provider.  Similarly, if a grandparent can claim, say, a grandchild or another relative as a new dependent on their 2021 tax return, they would also be able to claim the rebate, she says.

Who may be eligible to receive more stimulus money

  • Parents of a baby born in 2021 who claim the child as a dependent on their 2021 tax return
  • Families who added a dependent, such as a parent, grandchild or foster child, on their 2021 tax return who was not listed as a dependent on their 2020 return
  • Single filers who had incomes above $80,000 in 2020 but less than that in 2021; married couples who filed a joint return who earned more than $160,000 in 2020 but made less money in 2021; and head-of-household filers with incomes above $120,000 in 2020 but less than that in 2021
  • Single filers who had incomes of between $75,000 and $80,000 in 2020 but earned less in 2021; married couples who file jointly who had incomes of between $150,000 and $160,000 in 2020 but less than that in 2021; and heads of household who had incomes of between $112,500 and $120,000 in 2020 but made less money in 2021

Even if you didn’t qualify for the first and second round of stimulus payments in 2020, “if you had a tough time financially in 2021 and your income is lower [than the IRS threshold], you will get the credit” on your 2021 return, Steber says.


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How to determine if you have money coming to you

Starting in late January, the IRS began sending out information via what it dubs Letter 6475. “It’s something for taxpayers to watch out for,” Steber says.  At the top of the letter, which the IRS says it will send through March, you’ll see the words “Your Third Economic Impact Payment(s).” The letter, which the agency did not send out last year, provides details about the total amount you received in third-round stimulus payments in 2021 and includes all payments, even if they were issued at separate times.

Keep in mind that the third-round EIPs were advance payments of the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit. (The letter also includes the amount of money you received in what the IRS calls plus-up payments, or money you received for third-round stimulus payments last year that were based on your 2019 return or information received from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board or the Department of Veterans Affairs but then updated after filing your 2020 tax return.) “This letter will help Economic Impact Payment recipients determine if they are entitled to and should claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2021 tax returns when they file in 2022,” the IRS announced in a Jan. 26 news release.

Tax specialists say that Letter 6475 will help minimize the number of mistakes people make when filling out their returns. Filers can also view their EIP totals by going to Your Online Account on the website irs.gov. The key is to make sure that the amount of money you received in third-round stimulus payments is cited accurately on your 2021 tax return and matches what the IRS has on its records. What you don’t want to do is claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your return if you have received all the stimulus money for which you are eligible. “Please keep any IRS notices [or] letters you receive related to the third round of Economic Impact Payments with your tax records and refer to it when you file your 2021 tax return,” the IRS advises.

How to Claim Your Rebate Credit

To get your money, you’ll need to claim the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2021 return. Filing electronically can guide you through the form. Don’t claim any missing first or second stimulus payments on your 2021 return; rather, you’ll need to file a 2020 return or an amended return to get these payments.

The rebate credit does not count toward your taxable income. And be aware that you’ll need to fill out your tax return accurately and include the precise amount of stimulus payments the IRS has actually paid you (that includes your third-round stimulus check and plus-up payments) to avoid a delay in your return’s processing. “If you enter the incorrect amount, it can hold up the processing of your return,” Greene-Lewis cautions. The agency will not automatically calculate your 2021 rebate. “It is on you, the taxpayer, to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit,” Steber says.

Adam Shell is a freelance journalist whose career spans work as a financial market reporter at USA Today and Investor’s Business Daily and an associate editor and writer at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.