Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds.
Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
ExpertiseContent strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
Benefit 2: Since any missing stimulus check money is also tied to your tax return this time around, filing early will mean you get any missing stimulus money faster, too. If you're owed a tax refund and stimulus money, both will arrive as part of the same payment. For example, let's say your tax refund was $500 and your stimulus check allotment was $500. You'd receive a $1,000 payment from the US Treasury.
(If you're on the hook for taxes but you're owed stimulus check money, the amount you have to fork over will be reduced. So, if you were to owe $1,000 in taxes and you're missing $500 in stimulus check money, you'd only owe $500 instead of $1,000.)
Watch this: Stimulus check No. 3: What you need to know
Benefit 4: You'll stand a better chance of getting your full payment if, as seems likely, there's a new stimulus check approved in 2021. According to the latest proposal -- which is not law -- the IRS would base your third stimulus payment on your 2019 or 2020 taxes, whichever it has most recently on record. Any money you don't get as part of the automatic payment you'd have to claim a year from now on your 2021 taxes.
Let's say you made less money in 2020 than in 2019, or you had a new baby in the last year. If the IRS calculates your sum based on your 2019 life circumstances, you'd miss out on the rest of the check for a year or more, by the time it's processed.
The day you file affects when you'll get your tax refund and missing stimulus check money
Though you can still technically file your taxes by mail and request a paper check, the fastest way to get the money you're owed is to file electronically and have funds deposited directly into your bank account. This year, the IRS didn't begin processing tax returns until Feb. 12, making that the soonest you could have submitted your return (April 15 is the last day to file). The IRS says 90% of filers will receive their refunds in 21 days or sooner.
Assuming seven days is the soonest you'd get your combined tax refund-stimulus payment and 21 days is the longest, we've sketched out what a difference filing sooner rather than later could make. (There's more below on how to calculate how much money you might get in addition to your tax refund.)
Does the IRS owe you any money from a previous stimulus check? How to find out
To figure out whether and how much money you're owed from a previous round of stimulus checks, you first have to determine how much you were owed for each previous payment, then subtract from that any amount you already received.
Here's how to calculate the payments you were owed:
If you no longer have that letter, you can use the IRS' Get My Payment tool to help figure out when you received the payment. It'll also show you the last four digits of the bank account it was deposited in if it was deposited directly.
There's also a form to help you figure out the amount you're owed on page 59 of this PDF detailing instructions for 1040 and 1040-SR tax forms, but it's a doozy to follow.
Why the IRS could owe you a payment, in the first place
There are many reasons why the IRS might still owe you stimulus check money, including:
To claim your missing stimulus payment on your taxes, this is what you'll do
The IRS requires you to fill out either form 1040 or 1040-SR if you're going to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 taxes. Once you have the amount you're owed worked out, you'll enter it on line 30 of either of those forms. Yes, it's that simple.
Ways your missing stimulus check payment could arrive
If you're due a refund from the IRS, it'll include both your full refund amount and whatever you're owed from the Recovery Rebate Credit. In other words, it'll be bigger. If, however, you owe the IRS money, your Recovery Rebate Credit will be applied to the debt. If the tax credit is more than you owe, you'll receive the difference as a refund.