The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides financial help for Americans struggling during the great lockdown. This help includes stimulus checks worth as much as $1,200 for singles, $2,400 for married couples and $500 for dependent children under 17.
Unfortunately, a glitch is preventing some Americans from getting any of the money they deserve.
The IRS has acknowledged the problem and is working on it, but because there are so many priorities competing for the agency's time, there may be no quick fix.
What's preventing Americans from getting their checks?
The problem affects married people whose spouses owe back child support.
Under the CARES Act, stimulus payments can legally be withheld to cover back child support (even though the law protects against garnishment for those who owe back taxes or defaulted student loan debt). However, payments owed to the spouses and children of people who owe back child support have accidentally been taken, too, even when those spouses qualify for injured spouse relief.
Injured spouse relief protects those who file joint tax returns with someone who is subject to garnishment of their tax refund. When an injured spouse claim is submitted with a tax return, the spouse who isn't personally subject to garnishment can get back his or her own share of the couple's tax refund and won't have the money seized to satisfy a debt that isn't theirs.
Injured spouse relief should protect the stimulus payments of those who don't owe child support but whose spouses do, as the payments should be treated just as a tax refund would be. Unfortunately, that's not happening right now -- stimulus payments for entire families are being taken.
The IRS has indicated it's aware of the glitch and is working with the Bureau of Financial Services, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to try to resolve the problem.
Unfortunately, many experts believe it will take months for the agencies to identify those whose stimulus payments have been improperly withheld and send them the payments they're due. The IRS is processing millions of stimulus check payments now, as well as millions of 2019 returns, and is stretched thin, so swift action isn't likely.
What can you do if you're affected by this glitch?
Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do to speed things up if you're in this situation. The IRS simply has to work to resolve the problem and get your money out to you.
The agency has also made it clear that those who filed injured spouse claims already with their 2019 tax returns (or 2018 returns if this year's returns haven't yet been filed) will not need to do anything to get their money.
When the problem is eventually resolved, injured spouses will get back half of the total stimulus payment due to the family. The other half, which was properly garnished due to the unpaid child support, will not be returned but instead will be used toward repaying that support debt.