Why and how you’d be required to return stimulus money to the IRS

That extra stimulus money may not be yours to keep.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With tax-filing season about to start on Feb. 12, millions of Americans who qualified for a stimulus check, but never received it are gathering up their paperwork to claim the missing amount on their federal tax returns. But what about if you are on the other end of scale, and the IRS sent you in error money you weren’t actually qualified to have — are you required to return it? And would the same rules apply to a third stimulus check

If you received a stimulus payment you weren’t supposed to — perhaps you make more than the specified income limit, for instance — then yes, IRS expects you to send the money back. When the first round of stimulus checks went out nearly a year ago, the IRS said that in certain cases it accidentally sent payments to people who weren’t eligible. Because the second round of checks had to be pushed out so quickly, it’s possible the same errors occurred again. Depending on how you got the stimulus payment — by paper checkEIP card or direct deposit — there are specific ways to go about returning it.

Here are the situations the IRS would want you to return a stimulus check that it paid out in error, with the specifics on how to do it. It’s also important to know your stimulus check rights and these key details about stimulus checks and taxes. (And here’s what’s happening with a potential third stimulus check, why some want to “target the payment,” how much money the new check could bring and when it might be approved.) This story was recently updated.

Situations where you are required to return your stimulus payment

The government determines who is eligible to receive a stimulus check based on a wide range of 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 doesn’t qualify for the $600 stimulus check.

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What to do if you received a stimulus payment for someone who has 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 cashed or deposited the stimulus payment, here’s how to return it

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.


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you haven’t cashed or deposited the paper check, here’s how to send it back

If any of the above situations pertain 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 got a stimulus payment at all? Here’s what to do

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 may be able to claim it as a Recovery Credit Rebate on your 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 through 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, specifically because of stimulus checks.

To stay updated on the latest stimulus check news, check what happens now that the IRS has stopped sending second stimulus checks. 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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