Stimulus check delivery during tax season: Answers to what you’re asking — or should be

March 7, 2021 0 By boss



The IRS could base your next stimulus check on either your 2019 or 2020 tax return.

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The Senate approved the $1.9 trillion stimulus package Saturday afternoon, bringing a third stimulus check closer to reality. The next step is another vote in the House, as early as Tuesday. However, complications could arise as the new stimulus payment could arrive in the midst of tax season — which is already complicated this year. Tax season ends on April 15 (unless you file an extension), which means Americans will be busy filing taxes when the possible $1,400 checks arrive.

With tax season and the third stimulus check merging, you’ll likely have many questions. Will your eligibility for the new payment be based on your 2019 or 2020 taxes? Will you have to pay taxes on any of the stimulus checks? What if you didn’t file taxes in 2019 or don’t file a return before the new bill passes? What if your circumstances have changed since you last filed?

We help shed some light on these questions as we know them until a final bill is approved. This story is frequently updated with new information.

Here’s why the next stimulus check could arrive in the midst of tax season

The stimulus bill has already passed in the House and Senate, but must be passed again by the House due to amendments. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expects President Joe Biden to sign it into law by March 14, which is when some unemployment benefits expire. If Congress follows that timeline, a third stimulus check could arrive during tax season.

There are a few reasons why that makes things a bit more complicated. For one, the IRS is already including makeup stimulus money from the first two checks with your tax refund this year. It also means the IRS will likely use whichever tax return they have on file most recently (more below.) 

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Will the stimulus check be based on my 2019 or 2020 tax return?

The most recent Senate version of the bill (PDF) states the IRS would determine your total third stimulus payment based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI from your 2019 tax returns. However, filing your 2020 tax returns could help you get your payment based on that income if the IRS processes your payment after you file. 

There may be several implications, too. For example, if you earned more in 2020 than in 2019, but the IRS uses your 2019 return (and gives you more stimulus money than you might be eligible for), you won’t have to return that money (more below). This is assuming you haven’t filed your 2020 taxes.

The IRS is currently accepting 2020 tax returns. We recommend filing your taxes as soon. The earlier you file, the sooner you’ll get your tax refund (you can estimate the total here) and any missing stimulus money you claimed on your return. You’ll also have a chance to set up direct deposit with the IRS, or fix any errors, which could get your third stimulus check sent to you faster


With tax returns and third stimulus checks potentially occurring at the same time, the IRS could have its hands full.

Angela Lang/CNET

What will happen if your income was higher in 2020 but the IRS uses your 2019 taxes?

The most recent version of the bill (PDF) says the IRS will use your 2019 taxes to determine your payment unless you file your taxes before the IRS processes the next stimulus checks.

Therefore, if you qualify for the full $1,400 based on your 2020 taxes, but the IRS issued your check based on your 2019 taxes, you could claim the difference a year from now on your 2021 tax return — much like the current Recovery Rebate Credit for missing stimulus check money from the first two rounds of stimulus payments.

On the other hand, this also means that if you qualify for the full stimulus payment based on your 2019 taxes but don’t qualify based on your 2020 taxes and if the IRS used your 2019 return, you won’t have to pay the IRS back for that discrepancy. 

What to do if your stimulus payment never shows up or if money is missing 

Once a final bill is approved, if you’re eligible to receive a third stimulus check, but yours never arrives by direct deposit, paper check or EIP card, you’ll likely have to take another step to claim that money. This happened to millions of people during the first and second round of payments for several different reasons, including IRS errors, out-of-date banking information or addresses and non-filers not taking an extra step to get the IRS their information.

Much like with the first and second checks, you’ll be able to claim any missing money from the third check owed to you or your dependents during tax season next year, 2022. That’s a long way away. The best thing to do right now to make sure your third check does arrive on time is to file your tax return as soon as possible, even if you don’t usually have to file one.

For more, check out what we know so far about a third stimulus check and who we think will be eligible this time around.


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