The IRS is continuing to distribute third-round stimulus payments of up to $1,400 to eligible Americans. But even as it does so, a number of unclaimed stimulus payments from earlier rounds of payment still exist. According to the IRS, 1.25 million stimulus payments, with a total value of just over $2 billion, remain either uncashed or unclaimed, or have been returned to the U.S. Treasury.
In terms of checks left uncashed, it is important to know that stimulus payments must be cashed within 12 months of the date of issuance. After that, the payments will no longer be able to be cashed.
In addition to payments simply remaining uncashed, the most likely cause of outstanding payments relates to previous year’s tax returns. Eligibility for stimulus payments is determined by individual or household adjusted gross income (AGI), and figuring out AGI requires the IRS to have a recent tax return on file; this is why, for example, the IRS is currently sending stimulus payments to people whose 2020 tax returns were just recently processed.
This means that anybody who did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, including those who are not typically required to file tax returns because of their age, income, or tax filing status, may not have received their initial stimulus payments.
Non-receipt of past stimulus payments for which they were eligible appears to have been a more common phenomenon for certain groups of people, most notably minorities and low-income workers. Data has shown that only 69 percent of eligible Black American adults and 64 percent of eligible Latinx Americans received their $1,200 stimulus payments. Many of these likely fell into the category of people who did not file tax returns, though their situation was also likely complicated by a lack of bank access.
Those people who did not receive all or some of the money they were eligible for from previous rounds of stimulus payments can still do so, however, through the use of the recovery rebate credit available on this year’s taxes. In order to take advantage of the credit and claim any outstanding stimulus payment money, eligible Americans must file a 2020 tax return even if they are usually not required to do so. Also important to note is that anybody looking to claim the remainder of a payment that they only partially received must provide documentation showing how much of their past stimulus payment they did receive.
This year’s tax deadline has been extended to May 17, giving people extra time to take advantage of the recovery rebate credit as well as the numerous other benefits they may be eligible for by submitting a 2020 tax return.
Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest.