Stimulus check: What to do if you get more than one

Third stimulus check
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you received more than one stimulus check in this last round of stimulus payments, or you got  more money than what you are actually eligible for, you unfortunately do not get to keep the extra cash. 

While some Americans are still waiting on their third relief payment, others have been sent more than what they were supposed to get. 

In many cases, this is because some individuals who got a stimulus check were also claimed as dependents by someone else. That problem was made more likely by confusion about  which tax years the IRS used to calculate stimulus-check eligibility and payment amounts and the timing of yearly income-tax filings. 

As MarketWatch describes, an adult who was previously claimed as a dependent by parents or grandparents and who files a 2020 tax return may receive stimulus check 3, while family members who have not yet filed their taxes — and whose eligibility was based on their 2019 tax return — also get a dependent payment for that same individual. 

Likewise, an adult dependent who receives federal assistance may get a stimulus payment that should go to their parents instead. 

You've got to give it back

There may be other instances of duplicate or erroneous payments. For example, Kiplinger points out that some non-residents who lack green cards may have received checks even though they weren't eligible. 

Married couples in which one spouse died in 2020 cannot claim $1,400 for the deceased individual, even though they may have been issued the money based on the 2019 return and can still file a joint return for 2020. 

In the latter situation, the only exception is for military families: If the deceased spouse was an active-duty service member, the surviving spouse can still claim their stimulus payment. 

If this sounds confusing, that's because it is. But you can't simply hope that the IRS doesn't notice that you got more money than you should have. You've got to give it back.

How to return your extra stimulus check

First, check all of your most recent income-tax returns and those of current or previous dependents to find out where the error is. 

While there doesn't appear to be any specific guidance for returning extra dependent payments, you should file an amended return to reconcile the error. You may actually receive a letter from the IRS telling you to do so if they notice that a dependent was claimed twice. 

Failing to correct your return could lead to the IRS auditing your taxes, which can get very expensive and wipe out the value of extra stimulus money.

If you do need to return a payment, either as a non-citizen or surviving spouse, you can do so by either voiding and mailing back your original paper check if it hasn't been cashed, or writing a personal check or money order and mailing it to the IRS (if you received a direct deposit). 

Make the check payable to "U.S. Treasury" and write "Third EIP" and your taxpayer ID — in most cases, your Social Security number —  on the check. You should also include a written explanation of why you're returning the payment. 

The IRS has a detailed chart for where to send your payments based on where you live. 

Emily Long

Emily Long is a Utah-based freelance writer who covers consumer technology, privacy and personal finance for Tom's Guide. She has been reporting and writing for nearly 10 years, and her work has appeared in Wirecutter, Lifehacker, NBC BETTER and CN Traveler, among others. When she's not working, you can find her trail running, teaching and practicing yoga, or studying for grad school — all fueled by coffee, obviously.