Still no $1,200 stimulus check? Here’s how to claim your Covid relief cash

  • Millions of people who were eligible for the first $1,200 stimulus check under the CARES Act still may not have received a payment.
  • Figuring out whether you qualify and how much you are owed isn't as complicated as you might think, tax experts say.

Lawmakers in Washington are hours away from voting on a second round of stimulus checks, but millions of people who were eligible for this money still may not have received the first one. 

For those who are waiting for all or part of their Covid relief payment, it is not too late to request that cash.

"They can get the stimulus payment they are eligible for in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 taxes," said Lisa Greene-Lewis, certified public accountant and TurboTax expert.

The payments included up to $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per married couple, plus $500 per child under 17. The tax credit would either lower the amount of tax you need to pay, or increase the value of your tax refund.

Figuring out whether you qualify and how much you are owed isn't as complicated as you might think, tax experts say.

Who qualifies

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, who makes less than $99,000 a year and were not claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return in 2019 or 2018, you most likely qualified for that first stimulus payment. 

There are a few categories of people who met these eligibility criteria for direct payments under the CARES Act who did not receive the money they were due.

The country's non-filers were one major group at risk of not receiving a payment, according to Janet Holtzblatt, senior fellow at the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center. "The biggest concern was the delay in payments to very low-income individuals who don't have to file income tax returns," said Holtzblatt.

To get the economic payments, non-filers had to go to the IRS website and submit their information, "a challenge when many would not know about the payments, their eligibility, or even have access to the Internet," continued Holtzblatt. 

The country's roughly 1.5 million inmates were another category in question. A federal judge decided in October they are indeed eligible to receive a payment under the CARES Act.

How to claim your money

The easiest way for a taxpayer to get a stimulus payment, or additional payment, if they are, in fact, due more, is to apply on their 2020 tax return, explained Mark Steber, chief tax officer for Jackson Hewitt Tax Services.

"There will be a schedule and line on the tax return to reconcile what they have received so far, and the amount actually due to them based on their 2020 tax return," continued Steber. 

The IRS says that eligible individuals can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR. These forms can also be used by people who are not normally required to file tax returns but are eligible for the credit.

If you are, indeed, due more money, it will show up on the 2020 tax return as an additional refund. Conversely, however, if you received too much cash via a stimulus payment, you do not have to pay it back.

And for those worried about how this might complicate the filing process this year, Greene-Lewis tells filers not to worry. 

"TurboTax has guidance related to stimulus payments and other impacts of Covid-19," explained Greene-Lewis. "It will ask up front if the filer received a stimulus payment and then calculate the recovery rebate credit based on actual 2020 income."

Taxpayers using the TurboTax service will have the option to connect live via one-way video to a TurboTax Live CPA or tax expert and get their questions answered, have their taxes reviewed, or fully hand their taxes over from the comfort of their home, according to Greene-Lewis.

Calculating your stimulus payment

Those eligible for a full stimulus payment include individuals earning up to $75,000, or $112,500 as head of household and $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly. 

But again, it is also possible to qualify for a partial stimulus payment. 

For every $100 you earn over the income thresholds outlined above, payments are reduced by $5. The money phases out completely if your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is more than $99,000 for individuals, $136,500 for head of household and $198,000 for married filing jointly.

When filing a 2020 return, Greene-Lewis also advises you check to see whether the additional $500 per dependent child under 17 was received. If not, you can also claim that as a credit.  

Whatever your circumstances, tax experts agree that filing early will be an especially good idea this year.

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