Will You Get a Bigger Stimulus Check If You File Your Tax Return Now?

It depends. You'll have to compare numbers from your 2018 and 2019 returns…but we have a tool that makes this much easier.

If you haven't filed your 2019 tax return yet, you might want to get that done ASAP. It could mean you get a larger economic stimulus check in the mail.

Here's how you figure it all out…

To calculate the amount of your check, the IRS needs to know your tax filing status, how many "qualifying" children you have (generally, 16 years old or younger), and your adjusted gross income (AGI). If you've already filed your 2019 return, the IRS will look at that return to get the necessary information. But if you haven't filed your 2019 return when the IRS is ready to send your payment (the return isn't due until July 15 this year), they'll pull your 2018 return for the data they need.

With that in mind, go to our Stimulus Check Calculator and answer the three questions based on information from your 2018 return. Then plug in numbers from your 2019 return (a best guess will do in a pinch). If the calculator spits out a higher estimated check amount using your 2019 information, then you want to file your 2019 return right away so that the IRS has it before they calculate your stimulus check amount.

Here's an example: Josh and Samantha were married in 2019. They quickly run the numbers for 2019 and determine that they have a combined AGI of $160,000, which is the same total AGI they had for 2018 as separate single filers. Since they have no kids and will be filing a joint return, they would get a $1,900 stimulus check based on their 2019 return. Using their separate 2018 returns, when Josh had an AGI of $100,000 and Samantha had an AGI of $60,000, Samantha would get a $1,200 check, but Josh wouldn't get anything at all because his 2018 AGI was too high. So, if they file their joint 2019 return quickly enough, they'll get an additional $700 now.

But, again, you have to move fast. The IRS could start processing checks (or direct deposits) in as little as three weeks—that's their goal—so you don't have much time.

If, however, you don't file your 2019 return in time, you'll still get your money—but you'll have to wait. The stimulus checks are actually just advanced payments of a new tax credit for the 2020 tax year. So, if you don't get the full amount you're owed now, you can claim the difference as a tax credit next year when you file your 2020 tax return. It will either result in an extra refund or reduce the amount of tax you owe. But it's better to have cash now than a tax credit later!

For more information on the economic stimulus checks, see Your 2020 Stimulus Check: How Much? When? And Other Questions Answered.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
9 Great Growth ETFs for 2022 and Beyond

9 Great Growth ETFs for 2022 and Beyond

These growth ETFs offer exposure to higher-risk, higher-reward stocks while lessening the risk of a single stock torpedoing your returns.
January 18, 2022
The 10 Best Closed-End Funds (CEFs) for 2022

The 10 Best Closed-End Funds (CEFs) for 2022

These high-yielding CEFs won't just significantly boost your portfolio income. They'll also allow you to buy their underlying stocks and bonds at a di…
January 12, 2022


Why This Tax Filing Season Could Be Ugly
Coronavirus and Your Money

Why This Tax Filing Season Could Be Ugly

National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins warns the agency will continue to struggle with tight budgets and backlogs. Her advice: File electronically…
January 26, 2022
The “Gray Resignation” with Liz Windisch
Making Your Money Last

The “Gray Resignation” with Liz Windisch

Pandemic pressures (and high stock and real estate values) are leading many to try to move up retirement. Plus, tax-filing season gets under way.
January 25, 2022
Con Artists Target People Who Owe The IRS Money

Con Artists Target People Who Owe The IRS Money

In one scheme, thieves will offer to "help" you pay back taxes, only to leave you on the hook for expensive fees in addition to the taxes.
January 24, 2022
12 Questions Retirees Often Get Wrong About Taxes in Retirement

12 Questions Retirees Often Get Wrong About Taxes in Retirement

You worked hard to build your retirement nest egg. But do you know how to minimize taxes on your savings?
January 21, 2022