Home » Sorry, you may have to return your stimulus payment to the IRS. Here’s why and how

Sorry, you may have to return your stimulus payment to the IRS. Here’s why and how

Sorry, you may have to return your stimulus payment to the IRS. Here's why and how

Any extra stimulus money you received may not be yours to keep.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Tax season is not only the time to claim your tax refund but also this year when you file for any stimulus money you didn’t receive with the first two checks. That is unless you’re in a different situation where you received stimulus money you didn’t actually qualify for — and in that case, the IRS could ask you to return it. We’ll help you determine whether you’re in that boat, especially since the rules about a third stimulus check could be the same, making this tax season complicated.

Many people are excluded from receiving stimulus checks due to qualification details outlined in each relief bill. One example is the income cutoff for each stimulus payment — if your income surpasses the specified amount, the IRS expects you to return the money. There were incidents with the first stimulus check where the IRS accidentally sent out payments to people who weren’t eligible. If that was you — or you received a second check by mistake — there are specific ways to go about returning the payment, depending on the payment method: paper checkEIP card or direct deposit.

Here are some cases in which the IRS would expect you to return stimulus money that you didn’t qualify for, with details on how to do it. Additionally, it’s time to make yourself aware of the third stimulus check details, as a new check will likely be ‘targeted,’ but could also qualify more groups of people. Also, here’s how much money you could potentially get and when it could arrive. This story was updated recently.

What if I get more stimulus money than I should from the third check?

While a third stimulus check hasn’t been approved quite yet, we do know that it could be up to $1,400 per person. We also know that the income cutoff to receive a payment at all would be $100,000 for an individual taxpayer, $150,000 for a head of household and $200,000 for a married couple who files jointly. If you make more than that amount and still receive a third stimulus payment, if and when it’s approved, the IRS will likely expect you to return the difference. 

However, if you made more in 2020 than you did in 2019, but you get a stimulus check before you file your taxes, you may not be expected to return that money, according to the latest proposal. We’ll update this with final rules when and if a bill passes. Meanwhile, you can use our third stimulus check calculator to estimate how much you could get.

The IRS expects you to return a stimulus payment for the following instances

The government determines who is and isn’t eligible to receive a stimulus check based on several factors. If you fall into any of these categories and received a stimulus check, it was likely by error:

Here’s more information about who didn’t qualify for the $600 stimulus check.


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Can I keep a stimulus payment I received for someone who’s died?

If you received a payment for someone who died in 2019 or earlier, the IRS says you should return the entire payment “unless it was made to joint filers and one spouse is still living.” If you’re the living spouse, you should return half the payment — just not more than $1,200 in all. 

However, if the check is issued in both your name and your deceased spouse’s name (and therefore you can’t deposit the money), you’ll need to return the whole amount to the IRS. After the agency processes the returned payment, it will issue a new check with the correct amount for you.

If you’ve already cashed or deposited the stimulus check, here’s how to return the payment

1. Use a personal check or money order and make the check payable to the US Treasury. You’ll also need to write “2020 EIP” and include the taxpayer identification number or Social Security number of the person whose name is on the check. 

2. On a separate piece of paper, let the IRS know why you’re sending the check back.

3. Mail the check to the appropriate IRS location — it depends on which state you live in.

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While you’re still waiting on your check to arrive, you can track it.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If you never cashed or deposited the paper check, here’s what to do to return it

If any of the above situations pertains to you, you may need to send your stimulus check back. Here’s how to do it for each scenario, per the IRS.

1. Write “VOID” in the endorsement section on the back of the check.

2. Do not bend, paper clip or staple the check.

3. On a separate piece of paper, let the IRS know why you’re sending the check back.

4. Mail the check to the appropriate IRS location — it varies depending on which state you live in.

Never received any stimulus payment at all? What you need to know

If you’re among the more than 100 million people who were eligible to receive the second $600 stimulus check and it never arrived, you’ll likely need to claim it as a Recovery Credit Rebate on your 2020 taxes, even if you don’t usually file taxes. Alternatively, you may have to start an IRS payment trace.

If you aren’t signed up for direct deposit with the IRS, now’s a good time, as a third stimulus check is on the table. To do so, you’ll need to add your banking information when you file your 2020 taxes this year. We also encourage you to file your taxes as early as possible this year because of stimulus checks. Remember the deadline to file is April 15, but you can file an extension.

To stay updated on the latest stimulus check news, here’s when the IRS could start sending a third payment. If you’re having stimulus check problems, do this instead of calling the IRS. Also, here’s what’s happening right now with a potential third stimulus payment.

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