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Stimulus check: What's a 'plus-up' payment, and how do you qualify?

Illustration of hundred-dollar bills and a check from the U.S. Treasury poking out of a manila envelope against the backdrop of the American flag.
(Image credit: ungvar/Shutterstock)

The IRS is currently issuing supplemental payments — so-called "plus-ups" — to some Americans who received a third stimulus check for less than $1,400, or no check at all, in recent weeks. 

If you made less money in 2020 than you did in 2019 and have not yet filed your tax return, or your 2020 return has not yet been processed by the IRS, then you may be eligible for additional relief. 

The third round of direct payments provided under the American Rescue Plan totaled $1,400 for individual taxpayers making up to $75,000 (and joint-filing couples earning up to $150,000), with prorated amounts going to those earning up to $80,000 and $160,000, respectively. Child and adult dependents also received the full amount. 

However, because the IRS bases its calculations on the most recent tax returns on file, those whose tax situation changed between 2019 and 2020 — and who haven't yet filed their 2020 return, or whose 2020 return hasn't yet been processed — may be missing out on payments they deserve. 

The following groups may qualify for plus-up payments: 

  • Individuals who earned a lot less in 2020 than in 2019
  • Taxpayers who had a baby in 2020 or who can otherwise claim additional dependents
  • Couples who married in 2020
  • Non-tax-filers who have newly eligible dependents 

The IRS began sending these supplemental payments last week (on March 31). If you have not filed your 2020 tax return but expect to fall into one of the above categories, now is the time to get it done. 

According to Kiplinger, tax returns must be filed by May 17 and processed by the IRS by August 16 to be eligible for a plus-up check — but the sooner the better. Be mindful that the IRS is facing greater backlogs than usual this year, and that filing electronically will get your return processed faster than filing a paper return.

Delayed checks are coming soon

Due to bureaucratic hang-ups among several federal agencies, millions of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Affairs (VA) and Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) beneficiaries did not receive their $1,400 checks in the early rounds of direct payments. 

However, the IRS reports that most of these funds are currently being processed and should hit bank accounts by April 7. 

If you haven't received your stimulus check but believe you're eligible, you can enter your information into the IRS Get My Payment tool to find out your stimulus-check status.