Earlier this year, Congress passed the CARES Act. The act provided various forms of economic relief to Americans including provisions for a $1,200 stimulus check for adults and a $500 stimulus for children 17 and under. They also just passed a second smaller round of stimulus with $600 checks.
While most people got their stimulus money earlier this year, some never got their stimulus check. Others received less than their due. In either case, tax filers can “recover” these payments by claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return.
The Recovery Rebate Credit is a new tax credit for the year 2020. It’s a dollar-for-dollar credit for people who didn’t receive the right amount of money from their stimulus check. For example, a couple who filed without dependents in 2019 likely received a $2,400 check in April. If they gave birth to a baby in 2020, they could claim the additional $500 via the Rebate Recovery Credit.
The Recovery Rebate Credit is likely your last chance to claim your missing stimulus money. If you didn’t get the check, you need to claim the credit on your tax return.
We’re partnering with TaxSlayer to show you how easy it is to claim your missing stimulus money when you file your tax return. Check out TaxSlayer here and get started >>
1. Check The Records
It’s hard to miss a $1,200 check landing in your bank account. But in case you missed it, check on the status of your payment via the IRS website. Click the “Get My Payment” button on the dedicated IRS page. Once there, the IRS will explain how they sent the stimulus payment to you, and the date the money was sent. It will not display the amount of money sent.
For an official record of the amount sent to you, refer to Notice 1444. Notice 1444 is a letter from the IRS that specifies the amount of money sent to you. Ideally, you kept that document with your tax records. If you did not, you may have to do some investigative work related to the amount of money sent. Look through your bank account records to see an unexpected credit. The date of credit should correspond with the info provided by the IRS.
If you did not get a Notice 1444, it’s possible that you did not qualify for a check based on your 2018 or 2019 tax returns. However, you may still qualify for a Recovery Rebate Credit based on your income in 2020.
2. Start Filing Your Taxes
Once you’ve figured out how whether you received a stimulus check, go through the normal process of filing your taxes. If you use tax filing software (such as TaxSlayer), it will prompt you to enter the amount of money you received as a stimulus check.
Enter the amount of money you received in the software. If you did not receive a check, enter $0. Note: this step is simply informative; it will not decrease your refund or increase your taxable income.
Based on the value you input, and your 2020 income, the software will automatically figure out whether you qualify for a credit.
Because of it's importance, the Recovery Rebate Credit is part of the basic 1040 Form this year. That means that tax software like TaxSlayer has to ask questions about the amount of stimulus money you received. You will not have to “dig” for the question about your stimulus payments.
Note: Stimulus money is NOT taxable income. Do not enter stimulus money you received as income.
If you want to do your taxes by hand (because you prefer painful tedium), you’ll find the Recovery Rebate Credit on Line 30 of Form 1040. You’ll need to do the line 30 worksheet to figure out the amount of credit you’re due.
While the Recovery Rebate Credit is an important credit it’s not the only way to save money on your taxes. Be sure to pay attention to other credits and deductions you can use to lower your tax bill.
If you’re looking to maximize your credits and deductions, TaxSlayer makes it easy to file your return. They have a robust free filing option for people who qualify. If you have a slightly more complex situation, TaxSlayer’s $17 Classic option includes EVERY tax form, income type, credit and deduction – no restrictions. Check out TaxSlayer here >>
3. File Your Tax Return And Wait For Your Check
Once you’re done with your tax return, you can file (or e-file) your federal return. After the IRS approves your return, you can sit back and watch for your refund check.
The stimulus money will not be split out into a separate check. Instead, the amount you are owed will be included in your tax refund and will arrive using the refund delivery method you choose (direct deposit, mailed check, etc.).
FYI: Filing your return electronically and choosing direct deposit is the fastest way to get your tax refund. Refund checks for early filers may come as early as February.
You can use TaxSlayer Free Edition to file a simple return online and not miss out.
What Happens If My 2020 Income Was Higher Than In Previous Years?
While unemployment was high throughout 2020, some people had banner years for income. If you already got your stimulus check, you don’t have to worry about paying it back.
However, if you did not get a stimulus check, and you don’t qualify based on your 2020 income, you are out of luck. Phaseouts for the Recovery Rebate begin at $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for a married couple in 2020. Individuals who earned more than $99,000 in adjusted gross income ($198,000 for married couples) will not qualify for the rebate.
Remember, when your income is higher, your tax bill is likely to be higher too. Be sure to use a quality tax software to minimize your tax burden and maximize your tax breaks. Even if the Recovery Rebate Credit isn’t for you, there are other ways to save.
We recommend TaxSlayer this year. Check out TaxSlayer here and get started >>
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.