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Who is eligible for a stimulus check?

8 min read

8 min read

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 19, 2020 and was updated in April 2021 with the latest information on the third stimulus payments.

How a life change affects your stimulus check/payment eligibility

With the third stimulus check dispersal under way, millions have already received their third stimulus payments. But the more Americans get their checks, the more questions arise — specifically about how life changes affect your stimulus payment.

Stimulus check eligibility for family with a new child

The first, second and now third economic impact payment (EIP) or stimulus payments can be paid in advance. Your eligibility and amount is based off your most recently filed tax return — but what if that information is incorrect?

For example, what if you haven’t filed taxes yet but got married in July 2020? Or had a baby? What if you’re dealing with the aftermath of a divorce or the recent death of a loved one? What if you already received your first and second stimulus checks, but it was for the wrong amount? What if you graduated from college in 2020 and aren’t a dependent anymore?

For the first and second stimulus payments, if your situation changed, you’ll claim the rest you’re owed through the Recovery Rebate credit on your 2020 return. For the third (and subsequent payments), you’ll wait to claim the credit on your 2021 tax return.

The IRS understood the need to get stimulus payments out quickly. As a result, some taxpayers  have found differences in the amount they should have received due to tax filing changes and income changes.

Below, we’ll clear things up about who is eligible for a stimulus checks, payment, and the credit and how life changes affect your eligibility.

Who receives a stimulus check, payment (Economic Impact Payment)?

If you fall within the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) thresholds shown below and have a Social Security number, you are eligible for each economic impact payment. Those who do not qualify for payments include non-resident aliens, dependents, and estates/trusts.

The amount of payment or credit you qualify for depends on your Adjusted gross income (AGI) and the number of qualified children with a Social Security Number or Adoption Tax Identification Number you can claim.

For 2020, you’ll qualify for up to $1,800 in credits for yourself and qualified dependents can increase the amount you’re eligible to get by up to $1,100 per qualified dependent ($600 for the second, and $500 for the first). Unfortunately, adult dependents didn’t qualify for the first and second stimulus payments.

For 2021, you’ll qualify for $1,400 in advance credits for yourself and qualified dependents will increase the taxpayer’s EIP by $1,400 so far. However, adult dependents do qualify the taxpayer to receive additional amounts on the third check.

You can see a detailed breakout of the income limits here:

Stimulus checks: Children and dependents

Q. I had a baby in late 2020. Am I eligible for the child stimulus payments?
A. If you had a baby in 2020, you are eligible for the $1,400 credit in 2021. This will be paid in an advance third stimulus payment if you filed your 2020 return by the time the payments were issued. If you didn’t receive the first or second stimulus payment for your baby, you can claim the recovery rebate credit when you claim the child on your 2020 return.

Q. I have joint custody of my daughter with my ex-spouse, and I claimed her on my 2019 taxes (we trade off every other year). What do we need to know when my husband claims her?
A. For the first and second payments, the spouse claiming the child in 2020 will claim the children and could receive the recovery rebate credit on the 2020 return.

However, for the third payment, divorced parents who alternate claiming their dependents each year, if an advance payment is received by one spouse for the dependent, no additional payment can be made for the same dependent on the other spouse’s return.

For example, if the payment is issued to Parent 1 because they claimed the child on their 2020 return, Parent 2 cannot claim the credit on their 2021 return even though they didn’t receive the payment from Parent 1.

Q. I did not receive the correct amount of stimulus payment (either the first, second, or third) for my dependents. How do I get that money?
A. As it turns out, if your amount was too low, there are two ways you can get the rest of your third payment. The first way is with a “top-up” payment for the third stimulus payment later this year: If your third stimulus was based on your 2019 return and the 2020 return you file would qualify you for money, the IRS will re-determine your eligibility and issue a new payment no later than 90 days after the filing deadline or by September 1, 2021 at the latest. If you don’t receive the correct amount of the third payment, you’ll claim the remaining amount as a credit on your 2021 return.

The second way is claiming the Recovery Rebate credit on your 2020 taxes, which you can do for the first or second payments. You’ll receive the correct amount in the form of a tax credit that either lowers your tax bill or gets added to your refund.

Stimulus checks: Marriages and divorce

Q. We got married in 2020; how does that affect the amount we will get?
A. Filing as jointly married versus separate for 2020 won’t change the total maximum stimulus amount and you won’t have to repay any stimulus you already received. However, now that you’re married, you should determine whether it makes more sense to file jointly or separately, and it’s possible that one spouse with a higher income could affect eligibility for the recovery rebate credit.

For example, let’s say you and your spouse had AGI amounts of $35,000 and $105,000 respectively. As single filers, you’d receive the full stimulus payment because your AGI of $35,000 is below the threshold, but your spouse’s AGI of $105,000 would be over the limit and wouldn’t qualify for a stimulus payment. However, if you file jointly for 2020, your combined AGI of $140,000 is below the threshold for joint filers, so you could claim your spouse’s portion as the recovery rebate credit.

Those who get married in 2021 will have a similar situation when they file their 2021 return.

Q. How does a recent divorce affect my stimulus check?
A. What if you were married and filed jointly on your tax return and have since become separated or divorced? If the IRS issued a payment based on a jointly filed return, you will allocate half of each payment to each spouse when you calculate your credit on your single status returns.

Stimulus checks: Recently deceased

Q. I received a stimulus check for a deceased relative. What do I do?
A. It depends when your loved one passed. For the first and second payments, individuals who died before January 1, 2020 are not eligible for payments. Individuals who died in 2020 are not eligible for the third stimulus check while anyone who died after December 31, 2020 may be eligible for the recovery rebate credit on their 2021 tax return.

During 2020, the IRS asked for stimulus checks/payments sent to ineligible deceased persons be returned. If the payment was made to joint filers, then you’d only need to return the decedent’s portion. The IRS outlines instructions for how to return the payment on their website.

Stimulus checks: No taxable income or address 

Q. I’m a single person that has a valid SSN, but I do not file a tax return because I do not have any taxable income. What should I do if I didn’t receive any stimulus money?

A. For the first two rounds of economic impact (i.e., stimulus) payments, the taxpayer will need to file a 2020 tax return with the IRS and claim the recovery rebate credit. Eligible taxpayers who did not receive the maximum amount of advance payments and taxpayers who missed receiving the first or second stimulus payments altogether can claim a credit on their tax return for the amount they qualified for but did not receive as an advance payment. For example, a single taxpayer who was eligible for but did not receive either economic impact payment would be eligible to claim a recovery rebate credit in the amount of $1,800 ($1,200 for the first round of stimulus payments and another $600 for the second round).

If this same eligible taxpayer did not receive the third economic impact payment, they should receive that from the IRS after their 2020 tax return is processed. Once the IRS processes the taxpayer’s 2020 tax return, the IRS will use the information from the 2020 tax return to determine eligibility for the third round of payments. In this case, if the IRS determines the taxpayer is eligible for the full third economic impact payment and no payment has been made to that taxpayer, the IRS will issue an additional $1,400 to that individual. The FAQs available on this IRS webpage help explain the process someone should follow in this situation to complete their tax return.

If the taxpayer has a bank account or can open a bank account, this is the fastest way to receive their money. If the taxpayer has a reloadable prepaid debit card, they can request the money be loaded on to that card. If neither of these are an option, the IRS will either send the taxpayer a check or a EIP debit card. The taxpayer will need to have an address to receive that check or debit card. They may be able to use the address at a homeless shelter or place of worship they frequent or they may be able to sign up for a PO Box at their local post office – https://faq.usps.com/s/article/Is-there-mail-service-for-the-homeless.

Looking for more stimulus information?

Find out about Social Security stimulus checks or payments for Social Security and railroad retirement beneficiaries.

Visit the IRS economic income payment information center for additional situations not covered here.

Stay up-to-date with our coronavirus resources

We know there’s a lot of information to take in these days. To help keep you informed, we created a Coronavirus Tax Resource Center where you can find the latest news and details regarding tax extension dates, stimulus relief and more.

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