How can I get my first and second stimulus check if I am incarcerated?

By Christine Tran, 2021 Get It Back Campaign Intern

This page will be regularly updated as new information becomes available.

Last updated 02/26/2021

First Stimulus Check

I am incarcerated, am I eligible for the first stimulus check?

Yes. If you are incarcerated in a state or federal prison, you are eligible to receive the first $1,200 stimulus check if you meet all four requirements:

  1. You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien.
  2. You have a valid Social Security Number. If you are married filing jointly, only one spouse is required to have an SSN. If the other spouse does not have an SSN, only the person who does will get the payment. If one spouse is a military member, only one spouse needs to have an SSN for both spouses to get the payment. Note: previously, both spouses were required to have SSNs to be eligible for the payment (one for military). The COVID relief legislation that includes the second stimulus checks changed this eligibility requirement for both the first and second stimulus checks.)
  3. You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
  4. Your 2018 or 2019 income is under $99,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $198,000 (married filing jointly). You also qualify if you have no income.

I thought the IRS said incarcerated people weren’t eligible for the first stimulus check. How am I now eligible?

On September 24, 2020, a federal judge issued an order requiring the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to stop withholding stimulus checks for incarcerated individuals. The judge also ordered that any stimulus check that was withheld, intercepted, or returned based on an individual’s incarcerated status be reprocessed by October 24, 2020.

How can I get my first stimulus check?

If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return or you are a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary, the government had until October 24, 2020 to reprocess and reissue your first stimulus check if it was withheld, intercepted, or returned based on your incarceration status. You should have received your first stimulus check by November 13, 2020.

If you requested your first stimulus check by using the IRS Non-Filer Form or filing a simplified tax return, you should have received your payment from the IRS.

The IRS has issued all first stimulus checks. If you have not received your first stimulus check, you will have to claim the stimulus check as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

Will the amount of my first stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue tax or prison debts?

The first stimulus check cannot be reduced to pay back taxes or federal and state debts. It can be reduced to pay past-due child support. In addition, the first stimulus check is not protected from garnishment by private debt collectors.

Depending on the facility rules, your first stimulus check can be reduced to pay certain fees or debts. For example, in California, the first stimulus check can be reduced for criminal restitution. In Pennsylvania, the first stimulus check can be reduced up to 25 percent to pay for fees.

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Find out how stimulus checks are treated when you claim them on your 2020 tax return as the Recovery Rebate Credit.

Second Stimulus Check

I am incarcerated, am I eligible for the second stimulus check?

Yes, you will not be denied the second stimulus check based on your incarceration status.

If you are incarcerated in a state or federal prison, you are eligible to receive the second $600 stimulus check if you meet all four requirements (please note that some of these requirements differ from the requirements of the first stimulus check):

  1. You are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or qualifying resident alien.
  2. You have a valid Social Security Number (SSN). If you are married filing jointly and do not have an SSN, only your spouse with an SSN can receive the payment. If you are in the military, both spouses can receive the payment even if only one spouse as an SSN.
  3. You were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s 2019 tax return.
  4. Your 2019 income is under $87,000 (single, or married filing separately) or $174,000 (married filing jointly). You also qualify if you have no income.

Learn more about the second stimulus check here.

How can I get my second stimulus check?

Your payment will be automatically sent to you if:

  • You meet the eligibility requirements and filed a 2019 tax return.
  • You are a Social Security recipient (including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or railroad retiree), or you are a Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) or Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiary.
  • You successfully registered for the first stimulus check online using the IRS Non-Filer tool or you submitted a simplified tax return that has been processed by the IRS.

As of now, we don’t know what the IRS is doing to make sure that the second stimulus checks are properly sent to individuals who are currently incarcerated. We will update this page as information becomes known.

The IRS has sent out all second stimulus checks. If you didn’t get a second stimulus check by January 15 (mailed checks may take longer to deliver) and did not receive your first stimulus check, you will have to file a 2020 federal tax return and claim both stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

Will the amount of my second stimulus check be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison?

Unlike your first stimulus check, your second stimulus check has greater protection from garnishment. Like the first stimulus check, your second stimulus check is protected from back taxes or federal and state debts. In addition, the second stimulus check is also protected from debt collection. That means that federal and state prison cannot reduce the amount of your second stimulus check to pay overdue debts.

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Find out how stimulus checks are treated when you claim them on your 2020 tax return as the Recovery Rebate Credit.

General Information

Where are my stimulus checks?

You can track the status of your first and second stimulus check by using the IRS Get My Payment tool. You can see when your first and second stimulus checks were sent and whether your payment type was direct deposit or mail. Note: The tool may not have information for some returns submitted by mail. As of January 29, 2021, Get My Payment is no longer being updated.

If the IRS Get My Payment tool does not show a payment date, you have to claim your first and second stimulus check on your 2020 tax return as the Recovery Rebate Credit, if you are eligible. The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

I used the IRS Non-Filer tool/submitted a 2019 tax return, but I haven’t received my stimulus checks. What do I do?

Most likely, the IRS was unable to process your 2019 tax return in time to issue your stimulus checks. You can track the status of your stimulus checks by using the IRS Get My Payment tool. Here you can see whether your stimulus checks were sent and whether your payment type was direct deposit or mail. You can also call the IRS hotline at 1-800-919-9835 to check on the status of your claim.

If you haven’t received your stimulus checks, you will have to claim your stimulus payment as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

What happens if my stimulus check was sent as a debit card instead of as a check?

The IRS sent a letter to prison officials that if debit cards couldn’t be processed at your prison facility, prison officials have to return the debit cards to the IRS fiscal agent at:

Fiserv

Attn: RAPID

1007 North 97th Circle

Omaha, NE 68122

The debit cards will be voided and you will have to claim the stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return. The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

How do I claim my stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit on my 2020 tax return?

1. By Mail: CARES Act Prison Case has IRS instructions on how people who are incarcerated can file a 2020 tax return, a blank IRS 2020 tax form you can print and fill out, and a completed IRS sample 2020 tax form you can reference.

To learn more about how to file by mail and where to send your completed tax form, click here.

2. Electronically: You can use free tax software, such as MyFreeTaxes, to file your taxes electronically and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit.

You can also use IRS Free File to prepare and file your taxes online for free.

To learn more about how to file electronically, click here.

Can my lawyer file for me?

Attorneys at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Berstein (who worked on the court case that fought for the right of people who are incarcerated to receive stimulus checks) suggest that attorneys can file on behalf of people in prison by using Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. To learn more about how attorneys can file for people who are incarcerated, click here.

If I receive my stimulus checks as the Recovery Rebate Credit, will it be reduced if I have overdue debts in prison?

If you are claiming the payments as part of your 2020 tax refund (known as the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit), the payments are no longer protected from past-due child support payments, back taxes, creditor and debt collectors, and other federal or state debt that you owe (see IRS FAQs Q E2 and Q E3). In other words, if you receive your first and second stimulus checks as part of your tax refund instead of direct checks, it is not protected from garnishment and may be reduced.

Need More Help?

If you need help claiming your first and second payment as the Recovery Rebate tax credit on your 2020 tax return, you can:

The deadline to file your taxes this year is April 15, 2021.

If you want additional information about stimulus checks for people who are incarcerated, you can:

  • Visit Cares Act Prison Case, a webpage resource created by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and the Equal Justice Society, who filed the lawsuit that successfully fought for the right of people who are incarcerated to receive stimulus checks.
  • Call Root & Rebound at (510) 279-4662 to request a Root & Rebound’s Stimulus Payments Recovery Rebate Credit FAQ Packet with a sample and blank Form 1040. This packet can be sent to people who are incarcerated so that they can file for the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit. They are also available to answer any general questions about stimulus checks from Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm PT.

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