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Coronavirus stimulus checks: Why your payment would be smaller than expected

The federal government has sent almost 130 million stimulus checks to Americans in less than a month to help offset any economic hardships from the coronavirus pandemic.

But some Americans may have received a smaller payout than they expected.

Read more: Coronavirus stimulus checks: What it means for your taxes

Payment amounts differ based on income, filing status, and family size. Other reasons such as past-due child support or garnishment from debt collectors could also reduce the amount you receive from the government.

Here are six common reasons why you got a smaller — or different — payment than you expected.

Your 2019 tax return isn’t on file

The Internal Revenue Service is using 2018 and 2019 tax returns — the most recent on file — to determine eligibility for the stimulus payments. If you haven’t filed your 2019 taxes or the IRS hasn’t processed the returns you filed yet, then the agency will base its eligibility determination on the older 2018 returns. Just because the IRS accepted your return electronically doesn’t mean it processed it yet.

Men hands holding a US Government Treasury check
There are six common reasons why you got a smaller — or different — stimulus payment than you expected. (Photo: Getty Creative)

It’s possible that since 2018 you have experienced a life change — such as the birth of a child last year or higher or lower income — that won’t be reflected in the stimulus payment.

In certain cases, taxpayers can recoup these losses when filing 2020 tax returns next year. For instance, you can claim the additional $500 bonus per child for children who weren’t counted in the stimulus check this year.

Ineligible dependents

The only children who are eligible for the $500 stimulus bonus are those under 17 and who were eligible dependents for the Child Tax Credit in 2018 or 2019. To claim this credit, you generally must be related to the child, live with them more than half the year, and provide at least half of their support.

Adopted children, foster children, younger siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews can also be claimed as dependents. Qualifying children must have a Social Security number (SSN) or an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN).

If the parents of a child don’t file a joint return, only the parent who claimed the child on their 2019 return will get the extra $500 in their stimulus payment. The parent who didn’t receive the additional payment can claim it on their 2020 tax return if they claim the child as their qualifying child for 2020.

Rear view of young male and female friends walking in corridor at university
Parents of children 17 and older won't get the $500-per-child stimulus bonus. College students whose parents claim as a dependent also won't get a stimulus check. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Dependents are college students

College students whose parents claim them as dependents on their tax returns don’t qualify for a stimulus payment, according to the coronavirus relief legislation called the CARES Act.

The parents also won’t receive the $500-per-child bonus for their college-aged children even if they claim them as dependents, according to the legislation.

Dependents are parents or relatives, age 17 or older

You also won’t get the $500-per-child stimulus bonus for any children 17 or older or older relatives living with who you claim as a dependent on your tax returns, according to the CARES Act.

Past-due child support

The stimulus payment is offset only by any past-due child support. If that’s the case for you, the Bureau of the Fiscal Service will send you a notice.

If you’re married to someone who is behind on child support payments, it’s possible that some of your stimulus payment — if you both file jointly — may have gone to the past-due support. If you filed an injured spouse claim with your most recent tax return, you should receive half of the total stimulus payment.

There are cases when this didn’t happen, and the IRS is working to resolve the issue and send your payment as soon as possible, the agency said.

The IRS Service Building on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC.
The Internal Revenue Service is using 2018 and 2019 tax returns — the most recent on file — to determine eligibility for the stimulus payments. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Garnishments by creditors

Federal tax refunds, including the stimulus payment, aren’t protected from garnishment by creditors once the proceeds are deposited into a taxpayer’s bank account.

What if my stimulus payment amount is incorrect?

The IRS recommends that everyone review the eligibility requirements for their stimulus to make sure they qualify. In many cases, you can claim the additional amount when you file your 2020 tax return if you didn’t receive the full amount you are entitled to.

Everyone also should keep the letter they receive by mail from the IRS within a few weeks after their payment is issued.

Janna is an editor for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @JannaHerron.

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