Second stimulus check on the way? These are your rights

Laveta Brigham

Who can garnish your stimulus check? We’ll tell you. Sarah Tew/CNET The IRS has until Friday to send out your second stimulus check of up to $600 per person. While that money is yours to keep in most cases, there are a few rule changes in the December stimulus bill […]


Who can garnish your stimulus check? We’ll tell you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS has until Friday to send out your second stimulus check of up to $600 per person. While that money is yours to keep in most cases, there are a few rule changes in the December stimulus bill — including changes to qualifications and new income limits that may prevent you from getting a check at all — that could also allow certain people or organizations to take your money in this round.

This may leave you wondering: Will I get taxed on my first or second stimulus check this year? Can states, banks or my landlord garnish my money? Could my second check be garnished to pay overdue child support? What if the IRS sent me too much money by accident? 

We’ve got all of the information you’ll need as the IRS continues to send the new payments this week via direct deposit, physical checks and EIP cards. (Here’s how to track your stimulus check online and in the mail, and what we know so far about a potential third stimulus check for $2,000 per adult.) After the Friday deadline, those who haven’t received their checks will need to claim them on their taxes, or, in some cases, report a missing check to the IRS. This story has been updated recently. 

Your second check can’t be garnished for overdue child support 

Under the CARES Act, stimulus money could be seized by state and federal agencies to cover past-due child support. However, your second stimulus check can’t be taken if you owe money for child support. This change with the new payment is widely understood across federal and state agencies. However, there could potentially be errors since the rollout is happening so swiftly. Here’s everything to know about stimulus checks and child support. It isn’t clear if garnishment rules would further change in a third stimulus check.

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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


Banks and creditors won’t be able to take your second stimulus check, but there is one exception

With the first stimulus check, private banks and creditors were able to seize a payment to cover an outstanding debt. However, some states, such as California, issued orders forbidding banks and creditors from garnishing your stimulus check. With the second stimulus check, your payment is protected from bank garnishment and from private creditors and debt collectors, according to the text of the law. 

However, there’s one major caveat here: Individual banks can decide whether they want to use your stimulus direct deposit to cover overdraft fees, according to a New York Times report. This is because for most people, their stimulus check is deposited into the same bank account where they also receive tax refunds

Though large US banks including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo said they would temporarily zero out their customers’ negative balances so that they can access their stimulus money, some regional and community banks are garnishing that money to pay overdraft fees, or are considering customer requests on a case-by-case basis, according to the Times. If this has happened to you, you can try contacting your bank to ask for a temporary overdraft waiver, but it may not be granted. 

No, the government will not tax your stimulus checks

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus payments to be income, which means you won’t be taxed on your stimulus money, and the IRS won’t garnish it to pay for any back taxes you owe. 

That also means a direct payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. If you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim your full stimulus check amount as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021 (more on that below).


Is the stimulus money really yours? That depends.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You don’t have to file taxes to get a stimulus check, however…

Though taxes do play a role in determining stimulus check eligibility, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act as well as with the second check. You just might need to take an extra step to request your payment and get your check, however. CNET is in the process of clarifying if nonfilers will have to file a tax return in order to receive any stimulus money that doesn’t come shortly after the Jan. 15 deadline

Landlords and nursing homes can’t force you to use your stimulus money as payment

The CARES Act prevented landlords from demanding you give them your stimulus check to make a rent payment. Nursing homes and care facilities also cannot ask you to hand over your stimulus check money to meet a payment, according to the IRS. 

The second stimulus check follows the same rules. If someone pressures you or threatens you with eviction in exchange for your payment, make sure you know your rights in regards to stimulus checks and to the eviction moratorium that lasts through Jan. 31. The $900 billion stimulus legislation includes rental assistance for states and cities. 

Your stimulus check won’t be taken to cover a late car payment

Likewise, people who are worried about car repossession if they can’t make a payment are in most cases not obligated to hand over stimulus money, unless it falls into an exception below. Here’s what we know about missed car payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

If your first check is still missing, you can claim a rebate to get that money later

If you were eligible for a first check but still haven’t received a direct deposit, check or prepaid EIP debit card from the IRS, you may have mistakenly been overlooked, or you may have a problem that you need to resolve. Certain groups who are eligible for that first payment, such as some older adults, retirees, SSDI recipients, noncitizens and those who are incarcerated, can file a claim for payment in 2021.

If you don’t receive your second check by the middle of January, you can also claim on your taxes in 2021.

To get your money this way — which the IRS calls a Recovery Rebate Credit — you have to wait until you file your 2020 federal income tax return (the deadline for which is currently April 15). When you file a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040SR, you’ll get a rebate for the amount of money you missed out on in the first round. This credit would either increase the amount of your tax refund or lower the amount of the tax you need to pay by the amount of stimulus money you’re still owed. 

If you got a letter from the IRS confirming either your first or second payment, but never actually got the money, you can try filing a Payment Trace through the IRS to track it down


If you owe child support, all or part of your stimulus check could be used to cover the expense.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Incarcerated people can still claim their stimulus check 

Though there was a lot of confusion at first, people who are in prison and jail are eligible to qualify for the first stimulus check of up to $1,200 per adult. 

A ruling this fall from a federal judge in California required the IRS to contact those incarcerated who can file a claim for a stimulus check. The deadline to file a claim this year — either through the mail or online — has passed. As with others who are missing a payment, the IRS said if you do not receive a payment by Dec. 31 you may be able to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit in 2021 by filing a 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

Right now, incarcerated people are also entitled to a second stimulus check.

Could the IRS make you return your stimulus check?

The IRS said a payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay a stimulus payment if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. (Here’s how your income taxes influence your payment.)

However, if the IRS thinks it mistakenly sent you more stimulus check money than you qualify for, or if you receive money in your check for someone who’s died, the agency expects you to return the payment.

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