Stimulus Update: If You Have Not Received a Stimulus Check, the Federal Government May Be Looking for You

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  • An estimated 9 million Americans may be eligible to claim stimulus payments.
  • Filing a 2021 tax return is not only free for many, it's also the easiest way to collect what you're due.
  • The deadline to file 2021 taxes has been extended to Nov. 17 to give everyone time to file.

Filing for money owed you could not be easier.

If you receive a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), do not panic. Beginning last week, the service began sending letters to more than 9 million people who appear to qualify for checks but have not filed the required 2021 federal income tax return that will qualify them for those funds. According to the IRS, members of this group of 9 million may be eligible to claim some or all of the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other credits depending on their specific situation.

Why would the government want to give money away?

As the federal government hurried to get the first series of stimulus checks to the American public in 2020, not much thought went into which groups were most in need. As a blanket response, the IRS was tasked with depositing checks into the bank accounts of most Americans.

Following those first deposits, scholars from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Columbia Business School, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern Denmark set out to learn if these checks helped stimulate the U.S. economy.

Primarily, the group wanted to see how recipients spent their checks. What they found was somewhat predictable. Households with $3,000 or more in their checking accounts held onto the money until they could decide what to do with it. Households with $500 or less in their checking accounts spent nearly half of the first check within 10 days. Those with the greatest need also spend their stimulus checks on necessities, like rent, food, and school supplies for their kids.

All that spending did more than lift millions out of poverty, it also stimulated the economy, helping to prevent a long, drawn-out recession. The recession that did reach American shores during the pandemic ended up being the shortest in history, lasting only three months.

How to respond to the letter

Many of those receiving the letter are identified as individuals who don't typically have to file a tax return due to very low incomes. If earlier studies are correct, these are the households most likely to need the money and to circulate it back into the economy.

If you do receive a letter, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig says, "We encourage people who haven't filed a tax return yet for 2021 to review these options. Even if they aren't required to file a tax return, they may still qualify for several important credits. We don't want people to overlook these tax credits, and the letters will remind people of their potential eligibility and steps they can take."

The fastest way to get money back is to file an accurate return electronically and choose direct deposit. If you don't have a bank account, give the IRS a current address so you can receive your check by mail.

Nov. 17 deadline to file for free

If you have not filed a 2021 tax return, the IRS wants to help out by providing Free File. Rather than close in October like it normally does, Free File will be available this year until Nov. 17. Free File is available to those whose annual income is $73,000 or less.

Individuals with incomes below $12,500 and couples with an annual income below $25,000 also have the option of visiting There, they may be able to file a simple tax return to claim the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit, an amount that covers any stimulus payment amounts they may have missed.

Deadlines are creeping up quickly, so don't delay. If you're among the 9 million Americans due past stimulus funds, take advantage of free services and file a 2021 tax return ASAP so you can get your long-awaited money.

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