December 5, 2020
Nobody can take your stimulus check from you, right? Not quite. Here are the rules

Nobody can take your stimulus check from you, right? Not quite. Here are the rules


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Who can seize your stimulus check?


Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS has sent out over 160 million economic stimulus payments through direct deposit to your bank account, a physical check in the mail or on a prepaid EIP debit card. Others, however — including some older adults, retirees, SSDI recipients, some who aren’t American citizens and those who are incarcerated — had to take an extra step to claim their payment

But if your payment did not arrive as expected — for example, your check never showed up or if it did, it was lower than you anticipated — there may be a explanation beyond the IRS making a mistake. Though the payment comes with rules protecting your stimulus check from being seized by your landlord or for back taxes, there are exceptions regarding the first check, which would likely carry over to a secondwhen and if negotiations produce a new stimulus bill

Here’s what we know about who could seize all or part of your stimulus money. (And when we think a second check could come.)

Unpaid debts and your stimulus payment

The CARES Act includes protections to keep state and federal agencies from taking all or part of your stimulus check to cover most debts owed to the government (see below for a big exception). Private banks and creditors may, however, be able to seize a payment to cover an outstanding debt. Some states, such as California, have issued orders forbidding banks and creditors from garnishing your stimulus check.

Read more: National eviction moratorium for 2020: What to know about a declaration form and Nov. 1 rent

Although negotiations on a second rescue package are currently at a standstill, the most recent proposals on the table would in most cases prohibit creditors and banks from seizing the payment to pay debts. Likewise, the IRS said you are not required to hand your check over to care facilities, like nursing homes, or to landlords to cover expenses.


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Overdue child support and your check

The CARES Act blocked state and federal agencies from taking a stimulus check to cover government debts such as an income tax debt, but it does not exclude seizing a payment to cover past-due child support

If parents are separated or divorced, only the spouse who owes child support will have the payment garnished. According to the IRS, if a spouse does not owe child support, they will receive their portion of the payment and do not need to take any action to receive it.

Read moreYou don’t have to be a US citizen living in America to get a stimulus check

In some cases, a mistake has led to the government garnishing all or part of the stimulus check meant for the current spouse of the parent paying child support (who isn’t the child’s other parent). Here’s how to claim that money.

A Senate Republican proposal for the next stimulus package would continue to garnish overdue child support (this proposal is not law). Under the Democratic package, those who owed support would still receive a payment.

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Is the stimulus money really yours? That depends.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Do you have to pay back stimulus money?

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 how your income taxes influence your payment.)

Read morePeople who are incarcerated may now be eligible for stimulus checks. Here’s what’s happening

For more information, here’s what we know about the state of negotiations on a second rescue bill and what a stimulus package from presidential candidate (and former Vice President) Joe Biden would look like.



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