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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Rocky Mengle, Tax Editor
| April 16, 2020Updated May 6, 2020
Millions of Americans have already received a stimulus payment (either by direct deposit or paper check). But if nothing shows up in your bank account or mailbox, it might be because you're not eligible for a stimulus check. And if you do get a check, you might have to send it back to the IRS.
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When we first started hearing about stimulus checks, some people may have gotten the impression that everyone was entitled to one. Unfortunately, that's just not the case. There are a few reasons why you won't get, or can't keep, a stimulus check. It could be because of your income, age, immigration status, or some other disqualifying factor. Here's a list of people who either won't get a stimulus check or will have to return any payment they receive. (If you are eligible for a payment, there's an easy way to check the status of your payment.)
Stimulus checks start at $1,200 per eligible person ($2,400 for married couples who file a joint tax return). If you have children who qualify for the child tax credit (basically, kids 16 years old or younger), there'll be an extra $500 tacked on for each child. So, for example, a married couple with two children can get up to $3,400. (Use our Stimulus Check Calculator to figure out how much you can get.)
However, stimulus payments are gradually phased-out for people at certain income levels (based on your 2018 or 2019 tax return, whichever one you filed most recently). If your income is high enough, your check will be completely phased out and you'll get nothing! For single people, that happens if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is above $99,000. If you're married and file a joint tax return, you'll get nothing if your AGI exceeds $198,000. If you claim the head-of-household filing status on your tax return, your payment will be reduced to zero if your AGI tops $136,500.
If you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return (whether or not you're actually claimed as a dependent), you won't receive a stimulus check. That means no payments to children living at home who are 17 or 18 years old, or to college students who are 23 or younger at the end of the year who don't pay at least half of their own expenses.
Other dependents won't receive stimulus payments, either. For example, an elderly parent living with an adult child is out of luck and won't get a check.
If you receive a stimulus payment for someone who is no longer alive, you're supposed to return it to the IRS. The entire payment should be returned, unless it was made payable to joint filers and one spouse is still alive. In that case, you only need to return the portion of the payment made on account of the deceased person. This amount will be $1,200, unless your joint adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000.
If you receive a paper check for a deceased person, how you return the payment depends on whether you already cashed the check. If the deceased person's payment was directly deposited into a bank account, then follow the procedures for paper checks that were cashed. For details on the procedures, see What to Do If You Get a Stimulus Check for a Dead Person.
Generally, you must have a Social Security number to get a stimulus check. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. First, an adopted child can have an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN) instead of a Social Security number. Second, for married members of the U.S. armed forces, only one spouse needs to have a Social Security number.
To get the extra $500 for a qualifying child, your son or daughter must also have a Social Security number. If they don't, then you won't get the addition amount.
The IRS is automatically sending payments to people who filed a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return. People who receive Social Security, Railroad Retirement, or veterans benefits, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, will receive stimulus checks automatically, too. However, if the IRS can't get the information it needs from your tax records, or from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, or Veterans Administration, then it can't send you a check. Fortunately, there's a way around this if you want a check now. But it requires some action on your part.
For people who don't file a tax return or receive federal government benefits, go to the IRS's web-based portal for non-filers and provide the IRS with the information it needs to cut you a stimulus check. It's a pretty easy process, and you can even provide your bank account information if you want to have your payment deposited directly into your account. People who aren't required to file a tax return can also submit a "simplified" tax return, which will trigger a stimulus check. (For more information, see How to Get a Stimulus Check if You Don't File a Tax Return).
However, even if you don't get a check now, you won't lose out on the money if you're eligible for a payment—you'll just have to wait until next year to get it. You can claim the proper amount as a tax credit next year if you file a 2020 tax return by April 15, 2021.
A person who is a nonresident alien in 2020 is not eligible for a stimulus check. If a nonresident alien receives a payment, he or she should return it to the IRS immediately. Generally, a "nonresident alien" is not a U.S. citizen, doesn't have a green card, and is not physically present in the U.S. for the required amount of time.
In addition to nonresident aliens who file Form 1040-NR or 1040NR-EZ for 2019, residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico who are not required to file a U.S. income tax return, but who file Form 1040-SS or 1040-PR to pay tax on self-employment income, will not get a stimulus payment, either.
See IRS Publication 519 for more information on the taxes for nonresident aliens.
Stimulus money is generally not subject to reduction or offset to pay back taxes or other debts owed to the federal or a state government. However, if you owe child support, the IRS can use stimulus check money to pay arrears. If your child support debt is greater than your stimulus check amount, you could end up missing out on a stimulus payment entirely.
If a person in jail or prison gets a stimulus check, they're supposed to return it to the IRS immediately. As with payments to dead people, the entire payment should be returned unless it was made payable to joint filers and only one spouse is incarcerated. In that case, only the portion of the payment for the prisoner needs to be returned.
Actually, the list of people who don't get a stimulus check (or need to return one) because they broke the law includes more than just current prison inmates. The full list also includes people who are:
For details on the procedures for returning checks received by incarcerated people, see Do People in Jail Get a Stimulus Check?.