COVID-19 has forced millions of Americans into unemployment and shuttered small businesses across the country. Recognizing the need for relief, lawmakers passed the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act in late March, which provides, among other things, extended unemployment benefits, small business funding, and the much-talked-about stimulus payments that have already started hitting Americans' bank accounts.

Many people have received their stimulus cash without issue. But what if that money lands in your account and you see that it's the wrong amount?

How much stimulus cash are you due?

The amount of money you receive in your stimulus payment will depend on:

  • Your tax-filing status
  • Your last reported adjusted gross income (AGI)
  • The number of dependents under age 17 in your household
Bunch of hundred-dollar bills


Full stimulus payments are worth up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, but not everyone will get that payment in full (or at all). You'll get a full stimulus payment if your AGI doesn't exceed:

  • $75,000 as a single tax filer
  • $112,500 as a head of household
  • $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly

From there, stimulus payments are reduced by $5 for each $100 your AGI surpasses these limits. As such, if you're a married couple filing jointly with a 10-year-old dependent, you're entitled to $2,900. If your AGI is $150,000 or less, you'll get that full $2,900. If your AGI is $160,000, you'll lose $500 of that $2,900 for a total of $2,400.

Now that you have a better understanding of how much stimulus cash you're actually entitled to, here's what to do if you receive the wrong amount.

When your stimulus payment is too low

There are a number of reasons why your stimulus payment may be lower than expected. Say you had a baby in 2019 but haven't yet filed your 2019 tax return (which is the case for many Americans, since the deadline to do so has been pushed back to July 15 of this year). As such, the last tax return the IRS has on file for you -- your 2018 return -- won't include a dependent, and so you'll be missing the extra $500 that child would normally entitle you to.

If that's the case, you'll be eligible for that remaining money when you file your 2020 tax return. In fact, the stimulus payments going out now are really just an advance on a refundable tax credit for 2020, so if your money doesn't come through immediately, you can get it later.

The same holds true if you received a smaller stimulus payment because your AGI was higher in 2018 than in 2019 and you haven't yet filed your 2019 return. Once again, you'll get that money back on your 2020 return.

What if you don't want to wait that long to get your money? In that case, you may be able to use the IRS letter that comes with your stimulus to follow up on your missing payment. You should receive that communication from the IRS in the mail within 15 days of getting your stimulus cash.

When your stimulus payment is too high

Getting more money than expected is a good problem to have. But what if that happens to you? Will you need to pay back that excess? For example, what if you have a child who's turning 17 this year but is counted as a dependent and results in an extra $500 in stimulus cash? Or what if your AGI has increased since the last AGI the IRS has on file for you?

In either scenario, the IRS says you won't be asked to pay that money back. The only exception is if you receive a stimulus payment for a deceased member of your household. In that case, you may be required to return that cash, but even that's still unclear, and the IRS should be working on clarification in the near future.

The stimulus payments that have been going out over the past few weeks are helping countless Americans stay afloat financially. If your stimulus payment is too low, rest assured that you shouldn't lose out on that money completely -- you may just need to sit tight and wait to get it. And if your stimulus comes in higher than expected, there's a good chance you'll get to enjoy that larger windfall.