What to Do If Your Third Stimulus Check Is Too Small


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  • People whose third stimulus check is based on 2019 income can get it topped off later this year.
  • The IRS will re-evaluate payments 90 days after the tax deadline for people who file 2020 returns.
  • A new baby or lower income could qualify you for more money.
  • Calculate your third stimulus check payment »

The federal government has moved swiftly to send stimulus checks since the passage of the American Rescue Plan on March 11.

The IRS said on Wednesday that 90 million payments have been issued so far, mostly by direct deposit. About 150,000 checks were mailed. Additional checks and prepaid debit cards will be mailed in the coming weeks.

The maximum payment this time is $ 1,400 per person, including dependents (that’s $ 2,800 for a married couple). But, you might not get every hundred you qualify for right now if your income or family situation has changed since your last tax return was filed. For example, if you had a baby in 2020 but haven’t filed a tax return yet, the IRS won’t know to include an extra $ 1,400 in your stimulus check.

The good news: You will get what you’re owed. The American Rescue Plan allows the IRS to make additional payments throughout the year to ensure people get this much-needed relief.

What to do if your stimulus check is too small

If you’re eligible for a stimulus check, how much you get is based on your 2019 adjusted gross income – unless your 2020 tax return is filed and processed by the IRS – and how many dependents you claim. People who receive federal benefits like Supplemental Security Income or Social Security disability and don’t file taxes will be paid using information from those agencies.

To get at least a partial check, single tax filers need an AGI under $ 80,000; married filers need an AGI under $ 160,000; and head-of-household filers need an AGI under $ 120,000.

The pandemic caused millions of people to lose jobs and take pay cuts last year. If your income dropped in 2020, but the IRS only has your 2019 return, you might not get your full payment right now. Having a baby between last year’s tax filing and now would also have an impact.

There are two ways to get the stimulus check you qualify for:

1. File your 2020 tax return by the tax deadline

The American Rescue Plan instructs the Treasury Department to evaluate whether an “additional payment” is necessary for people who file their 2020 tax returns after stimulus checks have already gone out.

We’re in the middle of tax season, and even if you have filed your 2020 return there’s a good chance the IRS hasn’t gotten to it yet. The agency is giving itself 90 days after the tax deadline to process returns and decide whose stimulus checks need to be topped off.

The tax deadline has moved from April 15 to May 17 this year because of the pandemic. That means you need to file your 2020 return before August 15 to make sure the IRS has time to process it and consider your new income and dependents if you have any. They’re calling this the “additional payment determination date.”

2. File your 2021 tax return next year and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit

The stimulus checks are technically an advanced tax credit meant to offset your 2021 federal income taxes.

If you don’t file your 2020 tax return in time to get your payment topped off this year, you’ll be able to claim what you’re owed when you file your 2021 tax return next year, as long as you fall within the income limits. The same rules applied to the first two stimulus checks.

For instance, if the stimulus check you’re getting this month is based on your 2019 income and you don’t file a 2020 return until after the IRS’s “additional payment determination date,” your next opportunity will be when you file your return in 2022.

If your income in fact increased and you no longer qualify for a check, don’t worry: You won’t have to pay back any money you already received.

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