In case you somehow missed the good news, at the end of 2020, lawmakers approved a $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that includes a second round of direct stimulus checks worth $600 each. So far, many people have already seen that money hit their bank accounts, but if the IRS doesn't have direct deposit details for you on file, you'll need to wait for a check or debit card in the mail.
That said, it was recently announced that the IRS only has until Jan. 15 to distribute payments, so if yours doesn't go out by that deadline, you'll need to claim it as a credit on your upcoming tax return. Specifically, you'll claim something called the Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 return, which is the return that's due this coming April.
Now on the one hand, waiting a little bit longer to get your stimulus cash may not seem like such a terrible thing. After all, the IRS generally begins accepting tax returns in late January, and if you file yours electronically, you may get a refund within 21 days, which has been the standard turnaround in previous tax years. That said, even if you never received the $600 stimulus you were entitled to, you may still not get a check for that money when you file your upcoming return.
Why you can't bank on getting that $600
A tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction of your tax liability, so if you claim a $600 credit for the stimulus payment you never received, you'll automatically shave $600 off of your tax burden. But one thing you need to remember is that your $600 credit is applied to your total tax liability. If you end up owing the IRS $600 for underpaying your 2020 taxes, a $600 credit for a missed stimulus payment will wipe out that debt, but then you won't be in line for a $600 refund. Rather, you'll simply owe nothing and the IRS won't owe you anything either.
Furthermore, it's possible to be owed that $600 but still wind up having to write the IRS a check during tax season. For example, if you underpaid your 2020 taxes by $1,000 but are due $600 in stimulus cash, you'll still have to send the IRS $400.
Now you may be thinking, "But so many people got their $600 stimulus checks, so even if I owe money, shouldn't the IRS send me my $600 in refund form?"
But remember, at the end of the day, that stimulus payment doesn't cancel out tax liabilities. If you underpaid your 2020 taxes by $1,000 and got your $600 check in the mail, you'd need to write out a $1,000 check at tax time. If you didn't get your $600 check in the mail and you owe that same $1,000, you'd only pay the IRS $400. In other words, either way, things will even out, and you won't lose out on any money by virtue of not having gotten your stimulus via direct deposit or in the mail.
In fact, even if you've gotten your stimulus already, before you spend or invest it, you may want to hang onto that cash and see how things shake out when you file your 2020 tax return. You may end up needing to use that money to make good on an IRS debt.