Claiming an Old Stimulus on Your Tax Return? 4 Mistakes to Avoid

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on April 17, 2021

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You can still collect stimulus money you never received last year -- but make sure to go about it the right way.

Normally, taxes are due on April 15, but this year, the IRS is giving filers an extra month to get their returns completed. The new tax-filing deadline has been pushed back to May 17, but you may want to tackle your return sooner if this big reason applies to you-- you're going after stimulus money you never received.

Last year, there were two rounds of stimulus payments that went out to the public. The first was worth up to $1,200 per person and the second was worth up to $600. If you never received a stimulus but were entitled to a payout, you can claim that money on your 2020 tax return via the Recovery Rebate Credit. But if you're going to go this route, be sure to avoid these blunders.

1. Claiming the wrong amount

You should have gotten a full stimulus under the previous two rounds if your 2018 or 2019 income was $75,000 or less as a single tax-filer, $112,500 or less as a head of household, or $150,000 or less as a married couple filing jointly. If your income exceeded these levels, you may have been entitled to a partial stimulus.

Either way, it's important that you claim the right amount via the Recovery Rebate Credit. If you're filing a tax return on paper, the IRS is including a worksheet you can use to calculate what your credit amounts to based on your income. If you're filing your taxes electronically, the software you use should be updated to help you calculate that number more easily. Either way, it's important to get that number right so as not to delay the processing of your return -- and the refund you're due.

2. Claiming a payment you already received

If you don't check your bank account often, there may be a surprise waiting there for you -- a stimulus payment from last year. It could be that a stimulus slipped into your account and you didn't even notice it, so make sure to check before asking the IRS for money it already sent you.

3. Claiming a third-round payment

There's a third stimulus round in the works worth up to $1,400 per person. Payments under the current round began going out in mid-March, right after the American Rescue Plan was signed into law.

If you haven't received a third-round stimulus payment yet, it could be that the IRS hasn't gotten around to sending yours, as those payments are going out in batches. This especially holds true if you're expecting to receive your payment via a check or debit card in the mail rather than as a direct deposit. But either way, don't claim a third-round stimulus on your 2020 taxes -- you're not allowed to do that. You can only claim money from the first two stimulus rounds since those went out in 2020.

4. Not signing up for direct deposit

If you're due a refund from the IRS after claiming old stimulus funds on your tax return, the quickest way to get it is to sign up for direct deposit. If you haven't already opened a bank account, you'll want to do so before filing your taxes. Otherwise, you'll need to wait for that money to arrive in the mail. And if you're relying on that cash to cover bills, delaying it could really hurt you.

It's not too late to get your hands on the stimulus funds you should have received in 2020. Just be sure to avoid these mistakes so you don't delay that money even more.

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