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How nonfilers can get stimulus checks (including those experiencing homelessness)

If you don't usually file taxes, what do you need to do to get your third stimulus check? How do you claim a missing payment? We'll explain what you need to know.

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If you don't usually have to file a federal tax return, how does your third check come into play?

Angela Lang/CNET

Millions of people typically don't have to file a tax return each year -- either because they're part of a federal program like Social Security and veteran beneficiaries, or their income doesn't meet the threshold. Those people are considered nonfilers by the IRS, and also include those experiencing homelessness. If you're a nonfiler, will that affect when you get your third stimulus check of up to $1,400? Is there anything you can do to claim missing money from the first two checks?

You might need to file your taxes this year -- especially if you're claiming missing stimulus money or if you have new dependents, like a baby. If you're experiencing homelessness, we'll explain what you can do. We'll also help explain why your second stimulus check could be missing -- there's a possibility you'll need to request an IRS payment trace.

Also, if you were eligible for the second payment as a nonfiler, you'll likely get the third stimulus check. Here's how to track your new payment when it's on the way -- and what to know about "plus-up payments." (Plus, what we know about a fourth stimulus check and how you may also be eligible for a child tax credit of up to $3,600 per qualified child.) This story was recently updated with new information.

How the third stimulus check works for nonfilers

For the third round of payments, in many cases, you shouldn't need to take an additional step to receive your money if you're part of a federal program like SSDI or SSI, because these should have been issued automatically. However, if the IRS doesn't know how many dependents you currently have, you may need to file a free, simple tax return for 2020 so it can pay you $1,400 for each.

If the IRS has your up-to-date 2019 records available, it'll use those to account for payments, including anyone who used the IRS nonfiler tool (the portal is now closed) to claim a first or second stimulus check. Nonfilers who received a previous stimulus check might also get a check through direct deposit (now closed), or in the mail as a paper check or EIP card. Some beneficiaries of federal programs, like SSDI and SSI recipients, may receive their stimulus money through their Direct Express card. Here's how to track your payment schedule with the IRS.

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If you're a nonfiler, how do you claim your missing stimulus money? Is it a free process? 

In the first round of stimulus checks, the IRS sent letters to 9 million nonfilers with information on how to file a claim to get their missing stimulus money. The agency instructed nonfilers to use the nonfilers tool to enter their information by Nov. 21, 2020. But if you missed the deadline, you can still claim your money as a Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 federal income tax return -- even if you usually don't have to:

When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Save your IRS letter - Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment - with your 2020 tax records. You'll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file in 2021.

If you did use the IRS nonfilers tool, you should have automatically received a second payment. If you didn't, you can still file for that money as a Recovery Rebate Credit as well. 

File for your Recovery Rebate Credit as part of a federal tax return this year, even if you don't normally do so. The IRS started processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, and the federal tax return deadline was extended to May 17 -- but you can still file a tax extension. (In 2020, the IRS extended the deadline to July 15 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

To get started, most nonfilers are eligible to use the IRS' Free File tool (if you make less than $72,000 a year, you can use it). As the name suggests, this tool lets you obtain a free federal tax return and in some cases a free state return as well. It's available to use now.

Go to the Free File site and select Choose an IRS Free File Offer to see all of the options available, which include companies like TaxSlayer and TurboTax. These programs should walk you through how to file your return and the Recovery Rebate Credit Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, all with no costs or fees. 

What to do if you're experiencing homelessness

If you don't have a permanent address or a bank account, you can still get a stimulus check. "The IRS has been continuing to work directly with groups inside and outside the tax community to get information directly to people experiencing homelessness and other groups to help them receive Economic Impact Payments," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said.

The IRS recommends using a trusted friend, relative or shelter's address so the agency can mail your payment if you're unable to receive direct deposit. The agency also says banks will help a person without an account to open a low-cost or no-cost bank account.

Nonfilers are likely eligible to get both of the 2020 stimulus checks

Most nonfilers fall below the income limits stipulated by each stimulus package and would be eligible for the full amount in each round -- $1,200 per person under the 2020 CARES Act passed in March 2020, and $600 per person under the December 2020 stimulus bill. Find the full eligibility rules for each stimulus check here

If you receive SSI or SSDI, you should have received at least a portion of both of those stimulus checks automatically -- the IRS obtained the names of Social Security recipients and SSI beneficiaries from the Social Security Administration in the spring and made the payments to them automatically, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

If either of your checks (or a portion of either) are missing, however, you'll have to take the extra steps below. 

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The IRS started processing tax returns on Feb. 12. The federal tax return deadline was extended to May 17.

Angela Lang/CNET

Typical tax season protocol for nonfilers, and what's different in 2021

When it comes to stimulus checks, the IRS refers to people who didn't have to file taxes in 2018 or 2019 as nonfilers. This group includes

  • People who are part of the SSI or SSDI programs
  • Single people under age 65 with an income of less than $12,200
  • Married people under age 65 with an income of less than $24,400
  • Single people age 65 or older with an income of less than $13,850
  • Married people age 65 or older with an income of less than $27,000
  • Veterans and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries

While young adults age 17-24 who are claimed as dependents on someone else's taxes don't have to file taxes, they aren't eligible for a first or second stimulus check due to the rules set out in the CARES Act and the December stimulus bill. (They are eligible to count toward $1,400 in a third check, however.) Find out more about when you can receive your own stimulus check here

Typically during tax season, if you're included in any of the above groups, you don't have to file a federal tax return. However, if you received any health care tax credits or subsidies, you'll need to file to keep receiving them. You can also still file to get back any taxes withheld from your pay, or to claim certain refundable tax credits. That's what you're going to have to do this year to claim your missing stimulus money. 

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What is a Recovery Rebate Credit? Will it change the amount you receive?

Recovery Rebate Credit is a tax credit that will either increase the amount of your tax refund or decrease the amount of tax you owe, based on how much of your stimulus funds the IRS still owes you.

File for your missing money from the first and/or second stimulus on the 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. The tax return instructions include a worksheet to figure out the amount of any Recovery Rebate Credit for which you're eligible, according to the IRS. However, this worksheet requires you to know the amounts of your stimulus payments. CNET's stimulus check calculators for the second and first payments can provide an estimate.

Find out the IRS' official total for you in two ways:

  • IRS letters: You should have received IRS Notice 1444 for the first stimulus payment, and you should receive Notice 1444-B for the second. Hold onto those letters, because you'll need the information for the Recovery Rebate Credit worksheet or any tax preparation software you use. If you lost the letters, here's what to do.
  • Your online tax account: In the coming weeks, if you have an account on IRS.gov/account, you'll be able to log in and see the amounts of the stimulus payments you were allotted. 

When will you receive your stimulus payment after you file for a Recovery Rebate Credit?

The IRS started processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12 but extended the tax deadline to May 17 and focused on sending stimulus checks instead. If you filed for a Recovery Rebate Credit as part of a 2020 tax form and submitted it in February or early March, you can check the status of your tax return and refund to see if it's been processed. It isn't certain what the IRS' revised timeline is for processing tax returns submitted in mid-March and beyond. 

For more, here's what we know so far about how much money you might get in a third stimulus check, and everything we know about a fourth check.