Tax Breaks

Stimulus Check Money is Still Available…But You Must File a Tax Return to Get It

If you didn't get a third stimulus check last year – or you didn't get the full amount – you may be able to cash in when you file your tax return this year.

It was more than a year ago that a third round of stimulus checks was announced. Remember how excited you were to hear the news? An extra $1,400 in your pocket, plus $1,400 more for each dependent, was a big deal and made a huge difference for millions of Americans. But the excitement eventually turned to frustration and disappointment for people who didn't get a payment (including a "plus up" payment) or didn't get the full amount. If that's you, there's some good news. You may still be able to claim the third stimulus check money you deserve…but you have to act now, because you need to file a 2021 tax return to get paid.

Some people were left high and dry because they simply weren't eligible for a third stimulus check. However, others were left out or given less than they were entitled to for various other reasons that won't prevent them from getting paid this year. For example, if you didn't get a third stimulus check because you didn't file a 2019 or 2020 tax return, you can still claim a payment when you file a 2021 tax return. If you had a baby in 2021, you can get the extra $1,400-per-dependent for the child that was missing from last year's third stimulus check payment. You could also be entitled to stimulus check money when you file your 2021 tax return if you experienced other recent changes to your family (e.g., you got married or divorced) or financial situation (e.g., you lost your job).

But, once again, you need to file a 2021 tax return to get the money the IRS owes you. That's true even if you're not required to file a tax return this year. For most people, tax returns are due by April 18 this year (residents of Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19). So, time is running out to file a return and get your stimulus check payment. When you file your return, we also recommend filing electronically and requesting any refund via direct deposit. That's always the best way to get your refund quickly. If your income is $73,000 or less, you can even e-file your federal return for free.

Recovery Rebate Tax Credit

So, how do you get the third stimulus check money you're owed by filing your 2021 tax return? On Line 30 of your 2021 return (1040 Form), you'll see the recovery rebate tax credit. This is where you stake your claim to the stimulus check funds you didn't get last year.

Third stimulus checks were merely advance payments of the recovery rebate credit. As a result, your credit for the 2021 tax year will be reduced by the total amount of your third stimulus check (if you got one). Most Americans received the full credit in advance, so their 2021 recovery rebate credit will be zero for them. But if you didn't receive a third stimulus check or got less than what you should have (use our Third Stimulus Check Calculator to see how much you should have received), then you can claim the difference between the credit amount you're allowed and what you actually received in advance as a tax credit on your 2021 return. The credit will reduce your tax bill, and for many people trigger a tax refund or boost the refund otherwise due.

To determine what, if anything, to report on Line 30, first complete the Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet in the Form 1040 instructions. (There's no need to complete the worksheet if you received a full third stimulus check.) You'll notice that the worksheet requires information from other parts of your 2021 tax return. That's where the recovery rebate credit differs from the third stimulus checks that were sent last year – those payments were based on information from either your 2019 or 2020 tax return. And that can make a big difference if your family or financial situation changed last year. Here are just two of many possible examples:

Example 1: Ann is single with no dependents and reported a federal adjusted gross income (AGI) of $77,000 on her 2020 tax return. Since her AGI was over the $75,000 phase-out threshold for single filers, her third stimulus check was reduced from $1,400 to $840. However, Ann was laid off for part of 2021. As a result, she reports only $60,000 of federal AGI on her 2021 tax return. Since that amount is well below the phase-out threshold, her 2021 recovery rebate credit before taking her third stimulus check into account is $1,400 (i.e., it's not reduced). Therefore, Ann can claim a total recovery rebate credit of $560 on Line 30 of her 2021 Form 1040 ($1,400 – $840 = $560).

Example 2: Josh and Samantha are married and file joint tax returns each year. They had their first baby in 2021. Their combined federal AGI on their 2020 tax return was $100,000, which was below the stimulus check phase-out threshold for joint filers. Since they reported no dependents on their 2020 return, they received a combined third stimulus check of $2,800. On their 2021 tax return, Josh and Samantha once again report a federal AGI of $100,000, but they also now claim one dependent. As a result, their 2021 recovery rebate credit before taking their third stimulus check into account is $4,200 (i.e., $1,400 each for Josh, Samantha, and the baby). Therefore, Josh and Samantha can claim a total recovery rebate credit of $1,400 on Line 30 of their 2021 Form 1040 ($4,200 – $2,800 = $1,400).

There are a number of other scenarios that can trigger a recovery rebate credit on your 2021 return. So, if you didn't receive the full third stimulus check amount last year, make sure you complete the worksheet to see if you qualify for a credit. For more on this valuable credit, see What's the Recovery Rebate Credit?

IRS Letter 6475, Notice 1444-C and Online Accounts

You'll need to know the total amount of your third stimulus check payment and any "plus up" payments actually paid to claim the recovery rebate tax credit on your 2021 tax return. You can get this information from a few different sources. First, you should have received Notice 1444-C from the IRS shortly after receiving your third stimulus payment. If you received a joint payment with your spouse, the notice shows the total amount of the payment. If you're married but file separate 2021 tax returns, each spouse must enter half of the payment amount shown on Notice 1444-C. People who received a plus-up payment should have received a separate Notice 1444-C after your payment was sent. Save Notice 1444-C with your other tax records.

The IRS is also mailed Letter 6475 in January. This letter confirms the total amount of the third stimulus check and any plus-up payments you received for the 2021 tax year. Again, if you received a joint payment with your spouse, the letter shows the total amount of payments. If you file separate 2021 tax returns, each spouse must enter half of the amount shown on Letter 6475. Save this letter, too.

You can also get the necessary information through an IRS online account. Your third stimulus check payments can be found on the Tax Records tab/page under the "Economic Impact Payment Information" section. If you and your spouse received a joint payment, each of you will need to sign into your own online account to retrieve your separate amounts (online accounts only show your portion of the payment). Also, any plus up payments you received won't be shown separately – it will be included in the total amount.

Requesting a Filing Extension

If you're unable to file a 2021 tax return by the April 18 deadline (April 19 for Maine and Massachusetts residents), there's an easy way to buy some more time. Simply request an automatic six-month extension to file your return. That will give you until October 17 to submit your Form 1040 – but you'll still have to pay any tax that you expect to owe by April 18.

To get a filing extension, either submit Form 4868 or make an electronic tax payment to the IRS before the tax return filing deadline. There are also special rules that apply to Americans living abroad and people serving in a combat zone. See How to Get More Time to File Your Tax Return for more information about federal tax filing extensions.

If you're getting an extension for your federal tax return, you might want to get one for your state tax return, too (unless you live in a state with no income tax). Check with your state's tax agency for information about state tax return filing extensions.

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