New COVID-19 guidelines Stimulus check update Apple to discontinue iMac Pro Ex-wife of Bezos marries science teacher International Women's Day Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Oprah
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you apply through our links, we may get a commission. Advertiser Disclosure

Nonfilers and stimulus checks: What you need to know if you never file taxes

If a program you're part of doesn't require you to file taxes, you may be in the sticky situation of needing to file this year to claim missing stimulus money.

Listen
- 06:41
49-2021-cash-money-stimulus-bill-600-dollars-check-americans-congress-signed-law-direct-deposit-mail

Even if you don't usually have to file a federal tax return, you'll need to this year if you're trying to claim missing stimulus money.

Angela Lang/CNET

You may be among the millions of people who don't have to file a tax return every year -- maybe you receive Social Security benefits. If so, you're considered a nonfiler by the IRS. However, this 2021 tax season may shake things up for you if you never received money from the first or second stimulus checks you qualified for. To claim that money, you'll have to file your taxes this year by the April 15 deadline.

Filing taxes may seem intimidating, but the IRS is making it easier for you to claim your missing stimulus money with its Recovery Rebate Credit tool. We'll explain how to claim your money, as well as help you figure out why your second stimulus check could be missing -- it could be something as simple as a direct deposit error, change of home address, a child dependent who wasn't counted or an accidental garnishment. However, you may also need to request an IRS Payment Trace

On another important note, many nonfilers who qualified for a second stimulus check will likely get a potential third stimulus check, which could arrive as early as the end of March, if a new bill passes. (Here's how the new check compares to the previous two payments). Also, here are several important reasons to file your taxes as soon as possible. This story is frequently updated.

I'm a nonfiler. How do I claim my missing stimulus money now? Is it free to do? 

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 federal tax returns are due April 15 (this could change, however) -- but you can 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. 

Are nonfilers eligible to get both of the stimulus checks that were passed? 

In most cases, yes. 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. 

 tax-day-3999

The IRS started processing tax returns on Feb. 12. 

Angela Lang/CNET

What's the usual protocol during tax time for nonfilers? What's different this year?

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. (This could change in a third check.) 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. 

Now playing: Watch this: Stimulus check No. 3: What you need to know
2:59

What is a Recovery Rebate Credit? Will it change the amount of my check?

A 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. 

How long will it take my stimulus payment to arrive after I file for a Recovery Rebate Credit?

Since the IRS started processing 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, it's likely the government would begin sending out Recovery Rebate Credit payments shortly after, depending on how early you file (here are some possible dates). The IRS recommends filing electronically and entering your direct deposit information as soon as possible to speed up your payment. 

If you file for a Recovery Rebate Credit with the IRS Free File tool, but don't give the IRS your banking information, your money will arrive on a paper check in the mail. Just know this option will take longer. Giving the IRS your direct deposit information may also help you receive the next stimulus check faster.

After you file, use the IRS Where's My Refund? tool to track your payment

For more, here's what we know so far about how much money you might get in a third stimulus check, and when the IRS could send the next payment.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.