Get a stimulus check you shouldn’t have? Yes, the IRS expects you to return it

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That extra $600 may not be yours to keep.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Tens of millions of Americans waited months for a second stimulus check to be approved. Within days of December’s COVID-19 relief bill getting signed into law, the US Treasury and IRS moved quickly to send out the second direct payments in order to meet the Jan. 15 deadline. With little time to fully confirm who qualified for the second payment, it’s possible you may have received a check in error. 

The IRS admitted to sending stimulus checks to non-eligible people by mistake with the first relief payment, and it could have happened again. If you received a check you weren’t supposed to — for example, you got stimulus money even though you make more than the income limit specified in the bill — the IRS expects you to send back the payment. And depending on how you received the stimulus money — by mail (including EIP card) or direct deposit — there are specific ways you would need to go about the return.

Here are all the reasons the IRS would expect you to send back a stimulus check paid out in error and how to do it. (And here’s what’s happening with a third stimulus check.)

Reasons to return the second stimulus check

Qualifications are key to determining who is eligible for a second stimulus check. If you fall under any of these categories and received a stimulus check, it’s likely by error.

  • You received a check for someone who has died.
  • You don’t have a Social Security number.
  • You’re considered a ‘nonresident alien’ without a US citizen spouse.
  • You’re a noncitizen who files federal taxes.
  • Your adjusted gross income exceeds the limit, for example, $87,000 for a single taxpayer.
  • You’re claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes.

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


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How to send a stimulus check back to the IRS

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

Returning a paper check that hasn’t been cashed or deposited: 

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.

Returning a direct deposit or a paper check that was cashed or deposited:

1. Use a personal check or money order and make the check payable to 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.

Returning a check for someone who has died: 

If you receive 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. 

However, if the check is issued in both your name and your deceased spouse’s name, the whole amount will need to be returned. After the IRS is able to process the returned payment, you will be issued a new check with the correct amount.

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


Sarah Tew/CNET

What if I haven’t received a stimulus check yet?

If you were among the tens of millions who were eligible to receive the second stimulus check and you haven’t received it, you may be able to claim it as a Recovery Credit Rebate on your taxes. Also, note that for a few days more, the payment could still be in transit if you’re receiving a paper check or EIP card in the mail. If so, you can track it through USPS.

To stay updated on the latest stimulus check news, here’s how to determine if your stimulus payment will arrive before the deadline and if you’re having stimulus check problems, do this instead of calling the IRS. Also, here’s what’s happening right now with a third stimulus payment.



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