Nonfilers, you might have to file taxes this year to get missing stimulus money. What to know

February 16, 2021 0 By boss

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Even if you don’t usually have to file a federal tax return, you’ll need to this year if you’re trying to claim missing stimulus money.


Angela Lang/CNET

Many Americans never received money from the first and second stimulus checks. And if you’re one of those people, you’ll likely need to file a tax return this year to claim your missing money, even if the IRS usually doesn’t ask you to do so. That would put you in a group of up to 8 million nonfilers who aren’t usually required to file a tax return but who didn’t get a payment they may have qualified to receive.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order last month asking the Treasury Department to consider making it easier for this group of nonfilers to receive their second payments of up to $600 per person. And now that tax season is here, the easiest way for nonfilers to claim their money may be to actually file 2020 taxes this year, using the IRS’ Recovery Rebate Credit.

Here, we walk you through everything you may need to know, including why your second stimulus check may be missing (a direct deposit mistake, change of home address, a child dependent wasn’t counted or accidental garnishment?) and which steps you need to take. (In some cases, you’ll have to request an IRS Payment Trace.) As a general rule, many nonfilers received a second stimulus check automatically and will likely get a potential third stimulus check, too — that’s expected to arrive within weeks, after a new bill passes. In addition, here’s why you want to file your tax form as soon as possible. This story is frequently updated.

What usually happens during tax time for nonfilers? What’s different?

When it comes to stimulus checks, the IRS refers to people who didn’t have to file taxes in 2018 or 2019 as nonfilers. This group includes

  • People who are part of the SSI or SSDI programs
  • Single people under age 65 with an income of less than $12,200
  • Married people under age 65 with an income of less than $24,400
  • Single people age 65 or older with an income of less than $13,850
  • Married people age 65 or older with an income of less than $27,000
  • Veterans and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries

While young adults age 17-24 who are claimed as dependents on someone else’s taxes don’t have to file taxes, they aren’t eligible for a first or second stimulus check due to the rules set out in the CARES Act and the December stimulus bill. (This could change in a third check.) Find out more about when you can receive your own stimulus check here

Typically during tax season, if you’re included in any of the above groups, you don’t have to file a federal tax return. However, if you received any health care tax credits or subsidies, you’ll need to file to keep receiving them. You can also still file to get back any taxes withheld from your pay, or to claim certain refundable tax credits. That’s what you’re going to have to do this year to claim your missing stimulus money. 

Are nonfilers eligible to get stimulus checks? 

In most cases, yes. Most nonfilers fall below the income limits stipulated by each stimulus package and would be eligible for the full amount in each round — $1,200 per person under the 2020 CARES Act passed in March 2020, and $600 per person under the December 2020 stimulus bill. Find the full eligibility rules for each stimulus check here

If you receive SSI or SSDI, you should have received at least a portion of both of those stimulus checks automatically — the IRS obtained the names of Social Security recipients and SSI beneficiaries from the Social Security Administration in the spring and made the payments to them automatically, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

If either of your checks (or a portion of either) are missing, however, you’ll have to take the extra steps below. 

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The IRS started processing tax returns on Feb. 12. 


Angela Lang/CNET

How can nonfilers claim missing stimulus money? Is it free to do? 

In the first round of stimulus checks, the IRS sent letters to 9 million nonfilers with information on how to file a claim to get their missing stimulus money. The agency instructed nonfilers to use the nonfilers tool to enter their information by Nov. 21. But if you missed the deadline, you can still claim your money as a Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 federal income tax return — even if you usually don’t have to: 

When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Save your IRS letter – Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment – with your 2020 tax records. You’ll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file in 2021.

If you did use the IRS nonfilers tool, you should have automatically received a second payment. If you didn’t, you can still file for that money as a Recovery Rebate Credit as well. 

File for your Recovery Rebate Credit as part of a federal tax return this year, even if you don’t normally do so. The IRS started processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, and federal tax returns are due April 15 — but you can file a tax extension. (In 2020, the IRS extended the deadline to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

To get started, most nonfilers are eligible to use the IRS’ Free File tool (if you make less than $72,000 a year, you can use it). As the name suggests, this tool lets you obtain a free federal tax return and in some cases a free state return as well. It’s available to use now.

Go to the Free File site and select Choose an IRS Free File Offer to see all of the options available, which include companies like TaxSlayer and TurboTax. These programs should walk you through how to file your return and the Recovery Rebate Credit Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, all with no costs or fees. 


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What is a Recovery Rebate Credit? What size check can I expect to get?

A Recovery Rebate Credit is a tax credit that will either increase the amount of your tax refund or decrease the amount of tax you owe, based on how much of your stimulus funds the IRS still owes you.

File for your missing money from the first and/or second stimulus on the 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. The tax return instructions include a worksheet to figure out the amount of any Recovery Rebate Credit for which you’re eligible, according to the IRS. However, this worksheet requires you to know the amounts of your stimulus payments. CNET’s stimulus check calculators for the second and first payments can provide an estimate.

Find out the IRS’ official total for you in two ways:

  • IRS letters: You should have received IRS Notice 1444 for the first stimulus payment, and you should receive Notice 1444-B for the second. Hold onto those letters, because you’ll need the information for the Recovery Rebate Credit worksheet or any tax preparation software you use. If you lost the letters, here’s what to do.
  • Your online tax account: In the coming weeks, if you have an account on IRS.gov/account, you’ll be able to log in and see the amounts of the stimulus payments you were allotted. 

When will I get my stimulus payment after I file for a Recovery Rebate Credit?

Since the IRS started processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, it’s likely the government would begin sending out Recovery Rebate Credit payments shortly after, depending on how early you file (here are some possible dates). The IRS recommends filing electronically and entering your direct deposit information as soon as possible to speed up your payment. 

If you file for a Recovery Rebate Credit with the IRS Free File tool, but don’t give the IRS your banking information, your money will arrive on a paper check in the mail. Just know this option will take longer. Giving the IRS your direct deposit information may also help you receive the next stimulus check faster.

After you file, use the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool to track your payment

For more, here’s what we know so far about how much money you might get in a third stimulus check, and when the IRS could send the next payment.

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