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Can the IRS Keep My Stimulus Payment if I Owe Money on My Taxes?

By Maurie Backman – Apr 22, 2020 at 6:03AM

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Here's what you need to know if you're worried about losing that money.

COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy for weeks now, and millions of Americans have lost their jobs as a result. Thankfully, there's some relief to be found in the form of stimulus payments that should already be hitting some people's bank accounts.

To be eligible for a full $1,200 stimulus payment, you must have an income that doesn't exceed $75,000 as a single tax filer or $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly. From there, the payment starts to phase out so that higher earners -- singles earning $99,000 or more and joint filers earning $198,000 or more -- don't get anything.

Man with serious expression at laptop.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

But assuming you are eligible for a stimulus check, you might already be making plans for that money. Maybe you'll use it to pay for essentials, like groceries and medications. Maybe you'll use it to cover your rent or mortgage payment. Or maybe you'll pad your emergency fund with it so you're protected in case the economy gets worse and your job becomes compromised.

Regardless, the last thing you want to risk is losing some or all of that money at a time when you might really need it. But what if you owe the IRS money on your taxes? Can the IRS garnish your stimulus payment?

Your stimulus cash is safe from the IRS

Though the IRS can, in some cases, garnish your wages to fulfill an outstanding tax debt, the good news is that your stimulus payment is exempt from IRS garnishment. The reason? The purpose of that stimulus money is to provide relief for Americans impacted by a current crisis, so to offer that payment and then take it back defeats its intent.

That said, there are other scenarios in which you could have your stimulus garnished. If you owe child support, you might not be allowed to collect that lump sum. And in some scenarios, you might lose your stimulus money to debt collectors, though lawmakers are working to take that option off the table. But you can rest assured that the IRS won't be garnishing your stimulus check to fulfill an outstanding tax bill.

Another thing: If you recently filed your 2019 tax return and owe money on it, that payment isn't actually due until July 15. Both the tax-filing and tax-payment deadlines were extended this year from April 15 to July 15 because of the ongoing crisis, so if you haven't yet paid your 2019 tax bill, you should know that you're technically not late or behind.

Put that stimulus money to good use

Ideally, you'll collect your stimulus payment in the coming weeks -- you might, in fact, even have yours already if the IRS has bank account details for you on file. Before you spend it, think about your immediate needs and how that money could help make the next few weeks easier on you.

Of course, if you do owe the IRS money and don't need your stimulus for immediate bills, it's a good idea to pay that tax debt so you don't run into trouble later. But rest assured that you'll get to do so on your own terms and not due to a garnishment.


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