Will You Get a Bigger Stimulus Check by Waiting to File Your Tax Return?

Perhaps. Use our Stimulus Check Calculator to find out.

As you've probably heard, the government is pumping huge amounts of cash into the U.S. economy with economic stimulus checks that will be sent to American adults soon. This is part of a larger plan to counter the coronavirus-induced meltdown that is pushing us into a recession. (For a full explanation of the stimulus checks, see Your 2020 Stimulus Check: How Much? When? And Other Questions Answered.)

When the IRS is ready to calculate the amount of your check, they will need 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 (your return isn't due until July 15 this year), they'll pull your 2018 return for the data they need.

That gives you an opportunity to influence the amount of your check if you haven't filed your 2019 return yet. Using our Stimulus Check Calculator, you can get an estimated stimulus payment amount using both your 2018 and 2019 returns (a best guess for 2019 will do in a pinch). If your check will be higher using your 2018 return, then you can simply hold off on filing your 2019 return until July 15 (or until you receive your stimulus payment). That way, the IRS will be forced to use your 2018 return to calculate your payment.

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Here's an example: Nicholas got a promotion and a big raise last year. As a result, his AGI jumped from $80,000 in 2018 to $95,000 in 2019. He is single with no children. Using his 2018 return, Nicholas would get a $950 stimulus check. However, if he used his 2019 return, he would only get $200. By waiting to file his 2019 return, he could increase his stimulus check by a whopping $750!

Will You Have to Pay Back the Difference?

In the example above, would Nicholas have to pay back that $750 somehow? No, according to the IRS.

Delayed Refunds

There's a potential drawback to delaying your 2019 return—you also delay any refund due. In late March, the average refund for this filing season is slightly below $3,000. If you're getting a 2019 refund, you have to decide if the extra money you'd get in your stimulus check by waiting to file is worth the delay in getting your refund.

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.