8 million nonfilers may have to file taxes this year if they want their stimulus check

Even if you don’t usually have to file a federal tax return, you’ll need to this year if you’re trying to claim missing stimulus money.


Angela Lang/CNET

The IRS relies heavily on tax return information to determine who qualifies to receive a stimulus check and for how much. That makes it tricky if you’re one of the millions of nonfilers in the US; people who aren’t required to file an annual income tax return. In fact, the White House estimates that at least 8 million people didn’t get a stimulus check

To drive home the point, President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order asking the Treasury to consider making it easier for this group of “nonfilers” to receive their second payments of up to $600 per person. It is not clear what the Treasury will do, For now, the easiest way for nonfilers to claim their money is to actually file 2020 taxes this year, using the IRS’ Recovery Rebate Credit.

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know, including why your second stimulus check may be missing (a direct deposit mistake, change of home addresschild dependent not counted, accidental garnishment?) and which steps you need to take. (In some cases, you’ll have to request an IRS Payment Trace.) As a general rule, many nonfilers received a second stimulus check automatically and will likely get the third stimulus check, too. In addition, here’s why you want to file your tax form as soon as possible. This story recently updated.

What is nonfiler status? What usually happens at tax time? 

When it comes to stimulus checks, the IRS refers to people who didn’t have to file taxes in 2018 or 2019 as nonfilers. This group includes

  • People who are part of the SSI or SSDI programs
  • Single people under age 65 with an income of less than $12,200
  • Married people under age 65 with an income of less than $24,400
  • Single people age 65 or older with an income of less than $13,850
  • Married people age 65 or older with an income of less than $27,000
  • Veterans and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries

While young adults age 17-24 who are claimed as dependents on someone else’s taxes don’t have to file taxes, they aren’t eligible for a first or second stimulus check due to the rules set out in the CARES Act and the December stimulus bill. Find out more about when you can receive your own stimulus check here

Typically, during tax season, if you’re included in any of the above groups, you don’t have to file a federal tax return. However, if you received any health care tax credits or subsidies, you’ll need to file to keep receiving them. You can also still file to get back any taxes withheld from your pay, or to claim certain refundable tax credits. That’s what you’re going to have to do this year to claim your missing stimulus money. 

Do nonfilers qualify for the stimulus checks? 

In most cases, yes. Most nonfilers fall below the income limits stipulated by each stimulus package and would be eligible for the full amount in each round — $1,200 per person under the 2020 CARES Act, and $600 per person under the December stimulus bill. Find the full eligibility rules for each stimulus check here

If you receive SSI or SSDI, you should have received at least a portion of both of your stimulus checks automatically — the IRS obtained the names of Social Security recipients and SSI beneficiaries from the Social Security Administration in the spring and made the payments to them automatically for both rounds, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

However, if either of your checks (or a portion of either) are missing, you’ll have to complete the extra steps below. 

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The IRS will start processing tax returns on Feb. 12. 


Angela Lang/CNET

How can nonfilers claim a missing payment? Is it free? 

In the first round of stimulus checks, the IRS sent letters to 9 million nonfilers with information on how to file a claim to get their missing stimulus money. The agency instructed nonfilers to use the nonfilers tool to enter their information by Nov. 21. However, if you missed that deadline, you can claim your money as a Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 federal income tax return — even if you usually don’t have to: 

When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Save your IRS letter – Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment – with your 2020 tax records. You’ll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file in 2021.

If you did use the IRS nonfilers tool, you should have automatically received a second payment. If you didn’t, you can still file for that money as a Recovery Rebate Credit as well. 

You can file for your Recovery Rebate Credit as part of a federal tax return this year, even if you don’t normally do so. The IRS said it will start processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, and federal tax returns are due April 15. (In 2020, the IRS extended the deadline to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

To get started, most nonfilers are eligible to use the IRS’ Free File tool (if you make less than $72,000 a year, you can use it). As the name suggests, this tool lets you obtain a free federal tax return and in some cases a free state return as well. It’s available to use now.

Go to the Free File site and select Choose an IRS Free File Offer to see all of the options available, which include companies like TaxSlayer and TurboTax. These programs should walk you through how to file your return and the Recovery Rebate Credit Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, all with no costs or fees. 

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What’s the Recovery Rebate Credit? How much money am I supposed to get?

A Recovery Rebate Credit is a tax credit that will either increase the amount of your tax refund or decrease the amount of tax you owe, based on how much of your stimulus funds the IRS still owes you.

You’ll file for your missing money from the first and/or second stimulus on the 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR on your 2020 federal tax return. The tax return instructions include a worksheet you can use to figure the amount of any Recovery Rebate Credit for which you are eligible, according to the IRS. However, this worksheet requires you to know the amounts of your stimulus payments. CNET’s stimulus check calculators for the second and first payments can provide an estimate.

Find out the IRS’ official total for you in two ways:

  • IRS letters: You should have received IRS Notice 1444 for the first stimulus payment, and you should receive Notice 1444-B for the second. Hold onto those letters, because you’ll need the information for the Recovery Rebate Credit worksheet or any tax preparation software you use. If you lost the letters, here’s what to do.
  • Your online tax account: In the coming weeks, if you have an account on IRS.gov/account, you’ll be able to log in and see the amounts of the stimulus payments you were allotted. 

How soon will your stimulus payment arrive after you file for a Recovery Rebate Credit? 

Since the IRS said it will start processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, it’s likely it would begin sending out Recovery Rebate Credit payments shortly after that, depending on how early you file. The IRS recommends filing electronically and entering your direct deposit information as soon as possible to speed up your payment. 

If you file for a Recovery Rebate Credit with the IRS Free File tool, but don’t give the IRS your banking information, your money will arrive on a paper check in the mail. Just know that this option will take longer. Giving the IRS your direct deposit information may also help you receive the next stimulus check faster.

After you file, you can use the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool to track your payment

For more, here’s what we know so far about how much money you might get in a third stimulus check, and when the IRS could send the next payment



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