Sorry, you could have to return your stimulus money to the IRS. Here’s why and how

March 16, 2021 0 By boss

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Any extra stimulus money you received may not be yours to keep.


Sarah Tew/CNET

This tax season, many people are using this time to claim their tax refunds and file for any stimulus money they never got with the first two payments. But if you’re in a different situation where you received stimulus money you weren’t actually qualified for, the IRS may ask you to send it back. We’ll help you understand if this situation applies to you, especially since the third stimulus check may have similar requirements.

People are typically excluded from receiving stimulus checks due to eligibility rules that are outlined in the relief bills. For instance, if you made more money during the 2019 tax season (or 2020) than the specified income cutoff for a stimulus payment, the IRS would expect you to return the money. Cases like this happened with the first stimulus check when the IRS accidentally sent out payments to people who weren’t eligible. If you received a check in error, there are ways to send the money back, but the specific way depends on the payment method — paper checkEIP card or direct deposit.

We’ll tell you some instances in which the IRS expects you to return stimulus money that you weren’t qualified for, with details on how to do it. Also, now that the third stimulus check has been approved, make sure you know all the details — for example, the new check is even more targeted this time, leaving higher earners out, but also more groups of people are qualified to get it. Also, here’s how much money you could get and when your check could arrive. This story was updated recently.

What if I get more stimulus money than I should from the third check?

Now that the third stimulus check is official and on the way to millions, we know the amount you could expect to get is up to $1,400 per person. We also know that the income cutoff to receive a payment at all is $80,000 for an individual taxpayer, $120,000 for a head of household and $160,000 for a married couple who files jointly. If you make more than that amount and still receive a third stimulus payment, the IRS will likely expect you to return the difference. 

However, if you made more in 2020 than you did in 2019, but you get a stimulus check before you file your taxes, you won’t be expected to return that money. You can use our third stimulus check calculator to estimate how much you’ll get.

The IRS expects you to return a stimulus check payment for the following reasons

The government determines who is and isn’t eligible to receive a stimulus check based on several factors. If you fall into any of these categories and received a stimulus check, it was likely by error:

  • You received a check for someone who has died — but there’s some nuance here (more below).
  • You don’t have a Social Security number.
  • You’re considered a “nonresident alien” without a US citizen spouse. 
  • You’re a noncitizen who files federal taxes.
  • Your adjusted gross income exceeds the limit; for example, $87,000 for a single taxpayer with the second check.
  • You’re claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes (this applies to the first and second checks).

Here’s more information about who didn’t qualify for the $600 stimulus check.


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Can I keep any stimulus money I received for someone in my household who’s died?

If you received a payment for someone who died in 2019 or earlier, the IRS says you should return the entire payment “unless it was made to joint filers and one spouse is still living.” If you’re the living spouse, you should return half the payment — just not more than $1,200 in all. 

However, if the check is issued in both your name and your deceased spouse’s name (and therefore you can’t deposit the money), you’ll need to return the whole amount to the IRS. After the agency processes the returned payment, it will issue a new check with the correct amount for you.

For the third check, it depends on which tax return the IRS uses. If it uses your 2019 tax return, you’ll likely get to keep the amount you received for the person who has died.

If you’ve already cashed or deposited the stimulus check, here’s how you can return it

If you’ve already cashed or deposited your check, here’s what to do.

1. Use a personal check or money order and make the check payable to the US Treasury. You’ll also need to write “2020 EIP” and include the taxpayer identification number or Social Security number of the person whose name is on the check. 

2. On a separate piece of paper, let the IRS know why you’re sending the check back.

3. Mail the check to the appropriate IRS location — that depends on which state you live in.

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While you’re still waiting on your check to arrive, you can track it.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If you never cashed or deposited the paper check, here’s what to do to return the money

If any of the above situations pertains to you, you may need to send your stimulus check back. Here’s how to do it for each scenario, per the IRS.

1. Write “VOID” in the endorsement section on the back of the check.

2. Do not bend, paper clip or staple the check.

3. On a separate piece of paper, let the IRS know why you’re sending the check back.

4. Mail the check to the appropriate IRS location — it varies depending on which state you live in.

Never received any stimulus check money at all? What you need to know

If you’re among the more than 100 million people who were eligible to receive the second $600 stimulus check and it never arrived, you’ll likely need to claim it as a Recovery Credit Rebate on your 2020 taxes, even if you don’t usually file taxes. Alternatively, you may have to start an IRS payment trace.

If you aren’t signed up for direct deposit with the IRS, now’s a good time, as a third stimulus check could now be on its way to you. To do so, you’ll need to add your banking information when you file your 2020 taxes this year. We also encourage you to file your taxes as early as possible this year because of stimulus checks. Remember the deadline to file is April 15, but you can file an extension.

To stay updated on the latest stimulus check news, here’s when you could get your third payment. If you’re having stimulus check problems, do this instead of calling the IRS. Also, here’s what to know about the third stimulus payment.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

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