Who can garnish your stimulus check?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Did you know that your landlord can’t make you hand over your stimulus check money to pay for rent? The IRS won’t claim it for back taxes, and you’re pretty much free to spend or save your first (and likely second) direct payment as you wish. However, there are a couple exceptions that you should know about that would result in all or part of your stimulus money being garnished for other uses.

But first, if you didn’t receive your first stimulus payment as expected, the IRS may have made a mistake — or you may have a problem you didn’t even know about.

The IRS has sent over 160 million stimulus payments to people through direct deposit to bank accountspaper checks and prepaid EIP debit cards. Other folks who are qualified, however — including some older adults, retireesSSDI recipients, noncitizens and those who are incarcerated — had to take an extra step to file a payment claim.

Here’s every situation that may cause stimulus money to be seized. For more information, here’s when we think a second check could be sent out, and this is who may not qualify for a second check. Here’s everyone who qualified for the first payment.

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Unpaid debts and your stimulus check

The CARES Act includes protections to keep state and federal agencies from taking all or part of your stimulus check to cover most debts owed to the government (see below for a big exception). Private banks and creditors may, however, be able to seize a payment to cover an outstanding debt. Some states, such as California, have issued orders forbidding banks and creditors from garnishing your stimulus check.

Read more: National eviction moratorium for 2020: What to know about a declaration form and Nov. 1 rent

Although negotiations on a second rescue package are currently at a standstill, the most recent proposals on the table would in most cases prohibit creditors and banks from seizing the payment to pay debts. Likewise, the IRS said you are not required to hand your check over to care facilities, like nursing homes, or to landlords to cover expenses.

How overdue child support affects your direct payment

The CARES Act blocked state and federal agencies from taking a stimulus check to cover government debts such as an income tax debt, but it does not exclude seizing a payment to cover past-due child support


Is the stimulus money really yours? That depends.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If parents are separated or divorced, only the spouse who owes child support will have the payment garnished. According to the IRS, if a spouse does not owe child support, they will receive their portion of the payment and do not need to take any action to receive it.

Read moreYou don’t have to be a US citizen living in America to get a stimulus check

In some cases, a mistake has led to the government garnishing all or part of the stimulus check meant for the current spouse of the parent paying child support (who isn’t the child’s other parent). Here’s how to claim that money.

A Senate Republican proposal for the next stimulus package would continue to garnish overdue child support (this proposal is not law). Under the Democratic package, those who owed support would still receive a payment.

Do you have to pay back your stimulus money?

The IRS said a payment you get this year won’t reduce your tax refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay a stimulus payment if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. (Here how your income taxes influence your payment.)

Read morePeople who are incarcerated may now be eligible for stimulus checks. Here’s what’s happening

For more information, here’s what we know about the state of negotiations on a second rescue bill and what a stimulus package from presidential candidate (and former Vice President) Joe Biden would look like.

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