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A Guide to Stimulus Checks and The Recovery Rebate Credit Thumbnail

A Guide to Stimulus Checks and The Recovery Rebate Credit

You may have received a stimulus check , or maybe you didn't but, did you know that you may be able to claim the recovery rebate credit on your 2020 tax return. You might not be aware, but both the first ($1200) and second ($600) stimulus checks were simply advance payments of the recovery rebate credit. What that means for you is that you may be able to get the difference between the combined total of your two stimulus checks and the recovery rebate credit amount if the checks received were less than the rebate given. And, if the stimulus checks exceeded the amount of the rebate credit, you won't have to repay the difference. So, it looks like it's a win win, either way! We'll take you through the information and steps you need to know:

Who's eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit?

Generally, you received a check and can claim a credit if, in 2020, you:

  • Were a US citizen or US resident alien;
  • Can't be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return; and
  • Have a Social Security number valid for employment that's issued before the due date of your 2020 tax return (including extensions).

How do I Calculate the Recovery Rebate Credit?

Similar to the eligibility rules, calculation of the recovery rebate credit is generally the same as the calculation of stimulus checks, except that they're based on information from different sources. First-round stimulus checks were based on information from either your 2018 or 2019 tax return, whichever was most recently filed when the IRS began processing your return. If you didn't file a return for wither of those two years, you could send the IRS the necessary information thorough an online portal. 

If you received benefits from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, or the Department of Veterans Affairs, the IRS for the information from those agencies.

Second stimulus checks were based on either your 2019 return, information previously obtained through the IRS's non-filers online portal, or information received from another government agency. However, the amount of your recovery rebate credit is based entirely on information found on your 2020 tax return.

Calculating the amount of your recovery rebate credit starts with a "base" amount. For most people, the base amount is $1,800 – that's the combined total of the first stimulus check base amount ($1,200) and the second stimulus check base amount ($600). For married couples filing a joint 2020 tax return, the base amount is $3,600 (i.e., twice the general base amount).

 Then you add on $1,100 for each child age 16 or younger claimed as a dependent on your 2020 return. The $1,100 amount represents the combined total of the $500-per-child tacked on to first stimulus checks and the $600-per-child add-on for the second round of stimulus checks.

 After adding up the base amount and any additional amount for your children, you then need to determine if your recovery rebate credit is reduced because of your income. Your credit will be reduced – possibly to zero – if you select the single, married filing separately, or a qualifying widow(er) filing status and have an adjusted gross income (AGI) above $75,000 on your 2020 tax return. If you file a joint return with your spouse, your credit will start to shrink if your 2020 AGI is over $150,000. For people who claim the head-of-household filing status, the tax credit is reduced if your AGI tops $112,500. For every $20 you're over the applicable threshold, your recovery rebate credit is reduced by $1.

 Finally, after the credit is reduced (if necessary), you need to subtract the total first- and second-round stimulus check payments you received from the credit amount. The IRS should have sent you a notice after it sent you a stimulus check – Notice 1444 for first-round payments; Notice 1444-B after second-round payments. You can find the proper amount to subtract on these notices. You report the final amount on Line 30 of your 2020 federal income tax return (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR). The recovery rebate credit is a "refundable" credit, which means that you'll get tax refund if the credit is larger than the tax that you would otherwise have to pay. ("Non-refundable" credits will only take your tax bill down to zero – they won't trigger a refund even they're more than the amount you owe.)

Here's an example:

Andrew and Becky filed a 2019 joint tax return in March 2020 (before any first-round stimulus checks were sent). They reported an adjusted gross income of $160,000 on that return. They also have one child, who is five years old. Since Andrew was furloughed from his job for part of 2020, their 2020 AGI was only $120,000. Because their 2019 AGI was above the $150,000 phase-out threshold for joint filers, both of their stimulus checks were reduced by $500. Their first-round stimulus check was reduced from $2,900 ($2,400 base amount + $500 for their child) to $2,400, while their second-round check was reduced from $1,800 ($1,200 base amount + $600 for their child) to $1,300.

 Since their 2020 AGI is below the phase-out threshold for joint filers, their recover rebate credit isn't reduced. As a result, after subtracting the amount of their first and second stimulus payments, the recovery rebate credit they report on Line 30 of their 2020 tax return is equal to $1,000.

Who Will Actually Get a Recovery Rebate Credit?

Most Americans already received the full amount of the recovery rebate credit as stimulus check payments. For those people, subtracting the stimulus money they previously received will reduce their recovery rebate credit to zero. However, certain groups of people could very well end up with a positive credit amount, which will result in a lower 2020 tax bill or larger tax refund. Below are some scenario where you may be able to claim a recovery rebate credit:

  • You AGI was above the applicable phase-out threshold on your 2019 tax return (or 2018 return for people who didn't file a 2019 return before the IRS processed their first stimulus check), but it's lower on your 2020 tax return;
  • You had a child in 2020;
  • You got married in 2020;
  • You could be claimed as a dependent on someone's 2019 tax return, but not on anyone's 2020 return;
  • You receive Social Security or veterans benefits, didn't file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, and care for a dependent child, but the IRS didn't get information about the child from the SSA or VA;
  • You're married and didn't get a first-round stimulus payment because both spouses don't have a Social Security number;
  • The IRS sent you a stimulus check that was less than what you were entitles to receive; or
  • The IRS didn't send you the first and/or second stimulus check at all.

As you can see, there is alot to know about the Recovery Rebate Credit. This is why it's important that you run the numbers when you file your 2020 tax return. If you are entitled to a refund, file your return electronically and sign up to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account to get your money the fastest. If you need assistance filing a return this and feel it's too complicated to go it alone, Prestige Wealth Accounting Group, our tax and accounting arm, is ready to help. It all starts with a call to our team at 908-782-1422.