Think you’ll get a second stimulus check? Better know your rights

Who can garnish your stimulus check? We’ll tell you.


Sarah Tew/CNET

A second stimulus check could become official early next week if US leaders finish negotiating a $900 billion stimulus package and bring it to a vote. If the COVID-19 relief bill contains the expected second stimulus check of up to $600 per qualified adult and dependent, the IRS and the US Treasury could move quickly to send out the next set of payments.

Though you’re typically entitled to use your stimulus money as you want to, there are certain situations where your check could be taken away by the state government, banks or creditors. It’s key to know your rights so you’re aware of how much money you’re eligible to receive, and who can and can’t legally take your second stimulus check.

We recently updated this story.

Your first and second stimulus check won’t be taxed by the government

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus payments to be income, which means you won’t be taxed on your stimulus money, and the IRS won’t garnish it to pay for any back taxes you owe. 

That also means a direct payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. If you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim your full stimulus check amount as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021 (more on that below). 

You don’t have to file taxes to get a stimulus check 

Though taxes do play a role in determining stimulus check eligibility, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act, and very likely still would if a second check is approved. You just might need to take an extra step to request your payment and get your check, but that could potentially change in a second round, once all the qualifications are known.

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Your landlord or your nursing home can’t take your stimulus check money

The CARES Act prevented landlords from demanding you give them your stimulus check to make a rent payment. Nursing homes and care facilities also cannot ask you to hand over your stimulus check money to meet a payment, according to the IRS

It’s likely that a second stimulus check would follow the same rules. If someone pressures you or threatens you with eviction, make sure you know your rights in regards to stimulus checks and to the eviction moratorium that lasts on all properties through the end of 2020. The $900 billion stimulus proposal currently making its way through Congress also includes rental assistance for states and cities and extends the eviction moratorium through January 2021. 

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Is the stimulus money really yours? That depends.


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If you owe a car payment, your stimulus money won’t be taken

Likewise, people who are worried about car repossession if they can’t make a payment are in most cases not obligated to hand over any stimulus money, unless it falls into an exception below. Here’s what we know about missed car payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you owe child support, your check could be garnished to pay it

Under the CARES Act, stimulus money could be seized by state and federal agencies to cover past-due child support

If parents are separated or divorced, only the spouse who owes child support will have the payment garnished. According to the IRS, if a spouse does not owe child support, they will receive their portion of the payment and do not need to take any action to receive it.

In some cases, a mistake has led to the government garnishing all or part of the stimulus check meant for the current spouse of the parent paying child support (who isn’t the child’s other parent). 

According to the IRS, the parent who does not owe child support should receive their portion of the payment without having to take action. If you haven’t received your check, you can claim a rebate on your 2020 tax return next year to get that money later (more below). Here’s everything to know about stimulus checks and child support.

If you’re still missing all or part of your first check, you can claim a rebate to get that money later

If you were eligible for a first check but still haven’t received a direct deposit, check or prepaid EIP debit card from the IRS, you may have mistakenly been overlooked, or you may have a problem that you need to resolve. Certain groups who are eligible for that first payment, such as some older adults, retirees, SSDI recipients, noncitizens and those who are incarcerated, can file a claim for payment in 2021.

To get your money this way — which the IRS calls a Recovery Rebate Credit — you have to wait until you file your 2020 federal income tax return (the deadline for which is currently April 15). When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR, you’ll get a rebate for the amount of money you missed out on in the first round. This credit would either increase the amount of your tax refund or lower the amount of the tax you need to pay by the amount of stimulus money you’re still owed. 

You can claim this money whether or not Congress approves a second stimulus check as part of another economic relief package this month or next year. 

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If you owe child support, all or part of your stimulus check could be used to cover the expense.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Incarcerated people may be able to claim their stimulus check 

Though there was a lot of confusion at first, people who are in prison and jail are eligible to qualify for the first stimulus check of up to $1,200 per adult. 

A ruling this fall from a federal judge in California required the IRS to contact those incarcerated who can file a claim for a stimulus check. The deadline to file a claim this year — either through the mail or online — has passed. As with others who are missing a payment, the IRS said if you do not receive a payment by Dec. 31 you may be able to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit in 2021 by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

Banks and creditors could take your stimulus money

Private banks and creditors may be able to seize a payment to cover an outstanding debt. Some states, such as California, have issued orders forbidding banks and creditors from garnishing your stimulus check. If you’re worried about this happening or you want to challenge an action that’s occurred, first check to see if your state has a protection in place that would make a seizure of your check illegal.

This rule could change for a second payment, but we won’t know until a final bill is authorized.  

Can the IRS make you return your stimulus money?

The IRS said a payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay a stimulus payment if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. (Here’s how your income taxes influence your payment.)

However, if the IRS thinks it mistakenly sent you more stimulus check money than you qualify for, or if you receive money in your check for someone who’s died, the agency expects you to return the payment.



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