Didn't Get Your Stimulus Payments? You Can Now Use 'Free File' to Claim Them

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The IRS has opened up its free tax service so you can claim your coronavirus stimulus money.

Lawmakers in Washington passed multiple coronavirus relief bills in 2020. Under one of them, called the CARES Act, most Americans received stimulus checks valued at up to $1,200 per eligible adult and $500 for each dependent under age 17. Another, which was signed into law at the end of December, authorized a second stimulus payment valued at up to $600 per adult and $600 per dependent.

The IRS was charged with sending out these payments and has distributed most of them via direct deposits to bank accounts, checks, or debit cards. If you didn't receive yours or didn't get the full amount, you'll have to take action in order to get your money.

Specifically, you're going to have to file a 2020 tax return. And the IRS has now announced that Free File is open, so you can start the process. Free File is a method of filing your federal returns that won't cost you any money. It's open to just about everyone, though it will be easier for some people to take advantage of than others.

Who must file a tax return to get stimulus payments?

If you were eligible for one or both coronavirus stimulus payments but didn't receive your money, you have to file a tax return to request it from the IRS.

This is because the money was actually an advance on a tax credit. If you didn't get it, you'll need to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax form. Likewise, if you got a stimulus payment but it wasn't for the correct amount (usually because the IRS didn't correctly count your dependents), you'll need to file a return to claim the missing money.

There are a number of reasons why you may not have gotten your payment. You may be eligible based on your income in 2020 -- but since the IRS used data from old tax returns to determine your annual earnings, you may have appeared ineligible. Or if you didn't file a tax return in 2018 or 2019, the IRS may not have had your information and been unaware of whether you qualified.

If the IRS didn't know about your dependents, you may have received some money but not enough. This could be because you had a baby in 2020 or they obtained your income information from the VA or Social Security Administration.

Whatever the reason, if you are eligible for the coronavirus stimulus funds but the money never came, filing your tax return is the best and only way to claim it now.

Free File is now available to help you claim your coronavirus stimulus money

The IRS will not begin accepting tax returns for the 2020 tax year until Feb. 12, 2021. However, the agency announced that Free File is now open. That means you can begin the process of completing your tax paperwork so you're ready to submit your forms as soon as the 12th rolls around.

Free File is available to most taxpayers, but the process by which you can file your taxes for free will vary depending on your income. If you make $72,000 or below, you can use an IRS partner site to easily submit your tax returns. These partner websites guide you through the process of preparing your tax return by asking you a few simple questions. They do all the math for you, and even autofill many of your tax forms after you take pictures of your W-2 or upload it.

If your income is above $72,000 you still have the option to file your taxes for free using Free Fillable Forms, but these are not yet available. These forms can be a lot more complicated because you have to know how to complete them yourself with limited or no guidance and you must do most of your own calculations.

While Free File programs are already open to taxpayers, you won't actually be able to submit your forms until filing season opens up on Feb. 12. Still, since you can begin using online software at no cost, it pays to get started early. That way you can get the process of claiming your coronavirus stimulus money underway.

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