What to Do If Your Stimulus Check is For the Wrong Amount

A stimulus payment was deposited into your bank account, but it doesn't seem like the right amount. Who do you call?

picture of couple in their kitchen shrugging their shoulders
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The IRS started depositing payments into Americans' bank accounts less than three weeks after stimulus checks were authorized. In the first week alone, 80 million payments were made. That's quite an accomplishment, and the IRS should be applauded for cranking out deposits so quickly…but, in some ways, the rollout hasn't exactly gone according to plan.

There have been a few bumps in the road, such as problems with the "Get My Payment" tracking tool, deposits sent to incorrect bank accounts, and indecision on whether Social Security recipients would automatically receive a payment. And, now, there are reports of people getting payments for the wrong amount. Sometimes, people are not getting the extra $500 for one or more children. In other cases, there's no apparent rhyme or reason why people received the amount they did. What do you do if this happens to you? Here's what we recommend.

Calculate the Proper Amount

If you suspect that your payment is wrong, the first thing you should do is figure out what your stimulus check amount should be. Maybe you got the right amount after all. The easiest way to determine how much you should have gotten is to use our Stimulus Check Calculator. You just need to know your filing status, how many children qualified for the child tax credit (generally, 16 years old or younger), and your adjusted gross income (AGI) from either your 2019 or 2018 tax return (whichever return you last filed).

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If you want to do the math yourself, start with $1,200 for yourself. If you're married and file a joint tax return, then both you and your spouse will get $1,200 (for a total of $2,400). If you have children who qualify for the child tax credit, you get an additional $500 for each child. Then subtract five cents for every dollar that your AGI exceeds the phase-out threshold amount, which is $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for head-of-household filers, and $150,000 for joint filers. Again, the IRS will first look for a 2019 tax return to get this information. If you haven't yet filed your 2019 return yet (now due July 15), the IRS will get it from your 2018 return.

Contact the IRS—Later

Like practically every other organization in the country, the IRS is experiencing staffing shortages because of the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, they're not answering their phones right now. In fact, the IRS is telling people not to even bother calling them about stimulus check issues.

However, the IRS is legally required to send you a notice within 15 days of mailing your check (or directly depositing the money into your bank account) to let you know the method of payment, the amount of payment, and an IRS phone number to call if you didn't receive your payment. So, once you receive the notice, you can call to let the IRS know the amount of your check is wrong. You'll just have to sit tight until then, though.

The IRS will mail the notice to your last known address it has on file. If you have recently moved, you should file a Form 8822 with the IRS and a change of address notice with the U.S. Postal Service right away so that the notice is sent to your new address.

If the Check is Not Enough, Will You Ever Get the Difference?

If your stimulus check or direct deposit payment is less than what it should be, you'll still get the difference—you'll just have to wait until next year to get it. The payment you're receiving now is really just advanced payments of a new 2020 tax credit. So, if you don't get everything you're due now, you can claim it next year as a refund or reduction of the tax you owe when you file your 2020 tax return by April 15, 2021.

If the Check is Too Much, Will You Have to Pay It Back?

If the check you receive is more than what it should be, you could have to pay it back. It might depend on why the amount is too high. If it's just because you haven't file your 2019 return yet and the payment amount based on your 2018 return is more, or for some other reason like that, then the IRS won't ask for the money back. However, if the amount you received is too high because the IRS accidently sent you someone else's check, then perhaps you'll have to pay back the overage. We'll keep an eye out for IRS guidance addressing this situation, so stay tuned!

Rocky Mengle

Rocky Mengle was a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger from October 2018 to January 2023 with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, Rocky worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky holds a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.