What is a plus-up payment for stimulus checks and will you get one?

The IRS is now sending out plus-up payments as it processes 2020 taxes. Here’s what it means for your stimulus check total.

Angela Lang/CNET

The IRS is now sending “plus-up” payments on a weekly basis, along with fresh batches of stimulus money. A plus-up payment is catch-up money if the IRS finds it owes you more than it sent in the third payment. If you got your $1,400 check already, should you expect a plus-up payment to boost it? And if you’re still waiting for your third stimulus check, how will you know if a plus-up payment is coming down the line? How long could you be waiting, and how will the catch-up money arrive? (Psst, here’s how to track your payment online and through the mail.)

Plus-up payments are a new thing for stimulus checks, and entirely due to the fact that the $1,400 payments are being delivered in the middle of tax season. If the IRS may have calculated your payment using older information for you and your family to determine your eligibility, you may be owed more money when it processes your 2020 tax return.

But what if you didn’t file taxes in 2019, or haven’t filed your 2020 return yet? (Unless you request an extension, you’ll have to file by the new deadline of May 17.) What if your circumstances have changed since you last filed, like if you earned less income in 2020 or if you had a baby? We’ve got the details you need. Also, here are nine unusual stimulus check facts, what we know about a fourth stimulus check and student loan debt forgiveness, and how to calculate your total check amount from the 2021 child tax credit. This story has been updated recently.

Reasons you might get a plus-up payment for your stimulus check

For taxpayers, stimulus checks are based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your most recent tax return. There are several reasons you may find the IRS owes you a plus-up payment for your third stimulus check. Note that if you’re owed any money from the first two stimulus checks, you’ll need to claim it in your 2020 taxes as a Recovery Rebate Credit. The plus-up payment only applies to the third check. You may get a plus-up payment if:

  • The IRS calculated your third check based on 2019 taxes (or earlier), but you’re owed more money based on your 2020 taxes.
  • You’re a tax nonfiler, but you submitted new information in a 2020 tax form to let the IRS know about any qualified dependents that the agency may not know about.
  • Your first payment didn’t include all your dependents, like a new baby.

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How do you know if you’re getting a plus-up payment?

The IRS is automatically sending out plus-up payments for people it calculates should receive one. There are several ways to gauge if you should expect a payment adjustment. We recommend being proactive about this one, so you aren’t mistakenly leaving hundreds or thousands of dollars behind in case there’s an issue receiving your plus-up money.

  • Know how much stimulus money you should expect. Compare that with how much you actually received. If there’s a big difference, you may be owed a catch-up payment.
  • Check the IRS tracking tool to see if your payment information has changed. For example, you may see that another plus-up payment has been scheduled for you. We’ve asked the IRS for clarification.
  • If you received a stimulus payment electronically through direct deposit or a Direct Express card, periodically check your balance to see if a new payment has arrived.
  • If you got your stimulus check through the mail and think you may be owed a payment, you can use this free USPS tool to see when mail is coming your way — including another stimulus check.
  • Keep your stimulus confirmation letter from the IRS. If you need to claim a plus-up payment in the future, you’ll need this information on hand.

How often will plus-up payments arrive and how long will they last?

The IRS has said it’s sending plus-up payments weekly. The payment schedule will be largely tied to the rate at which the IRS can process 2020 tax returns. The IRS is currently accepting 2020 tax returns through May 17, the new Tax Day deadline. (If you’re expecting a tax refund that includes missing stimulus money from the first two stimulus checks, we especially recommend setting up direct deposit with the IRS if you don’t already have it, so you get your tax refund back much sooner.)

There are several implications to this. For example, if you earned more in 2020 than in 2019, but the IRS uses your 2019 return (and gives you more stimulus money than you might be eligible for), you won’t have to return that money (more below). This is assuming you haven’t filed your 2020 taxes. The IRS has between now and the Dec. 31, 2021 deadline for sending stimulus checks.

If you’re owed a plus-up payment, you shouldn’t have to file an amended tax return or do anything else to claim it, other than file your 2020 tax return as soon as possible. 


With tax returns and third stimulus checks occurring at the same time, the IRS has its hands full.

Angela Lang/CNET

What happens if your plus-up payment doesn’t arrive? 

The IRS has until Dec. 31, 2021, to finish sending stimulus check payments, and that will include the catch-up payments for people who are still owed stimulus money. But if the automatic adjustment never arrives, what should you do?

If you know how much stimulus money you should expect, using our stimulus calculator as a baseline, and the amount the IRS tells you to expect differs greatly from the total the IRS said it gave you in a confirmation letter, you’ll need to keep an eagle eye out for payment adjustments. 

If the extra money never arrives, you may need to file a claim, either later in 2021 (if the IRS opens up an adjustment window) or potentially a year from now on your 2021 tax return. This is much like the current Recovery Rebate Credit for missing stimulus check money from the first two rounds of stimulus payments.

We’ve reached out to the IRS for more information on how long it could take to send out all of these supplemental payments, and what to do if your plus-up payment never arrives. We will update this story when we get more information. 

What if the IRS uses your 2019 tax return, but you earned more money in 2020?

If you qualify for the full third stimulus payment based on your 2019 taxes but don’t qualify based on your 2020 taxes — assuming the IRS used your 2019 return — you won’t have to pay the IRS back for that discrepancy. Here are situations where you would need to return money to the IRS.


If your circumstances changed in 2020, you may be owed more stimulus money from the IRS.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What if the IRS never processed your 2019 tax return?

Due to pandemic-related delays, the IRS is still working its way through a backlog of paper tax returns from 2019. As of the end of January 2021, there were 6.7 million individual income tax returns for 2019 that had yet to be processed, according to the agency. These processing delays could be due to a number of things, including a mistake, missing information, or suspected identity theft or fraud. If the IRS contacts you for more information, you should get a letter. Resolving the problem then depends on how quickly and accurately you get back to the agency. 

However, the new bill specifies that a third stimulus check will be based on your 2019 or 2020 tax return — not your 2018 one. 

The bill says:

On the basis of information available to the Secretary shall, on the basis of such information, determine the advance refund amount with respect to such individual.

If your 2019 tax return is still being processed, the best thing to do right now is to file your 2020 return electronically as soon as you can, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. But if the holdup in processing your 2019 return is due to a problem that also occurs on your 2020 return, your 2020 return may get slowed down, which could delay your payment, Holtzblatt said. 

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What if your third stimulus payment never arrives, or if money is missing?

If you’re eligible to receive a third stimulus check, but yours never arrives by direct deposit, paper checkEIP card or Direct Express card (for example if you receive SSI, SSDI or veterans benefits), you’ll likely have to take another step to claim that money. This happened to millions of people during the first and second round of payments for several different reasons, including IRS errors, out-of-date banking information or addresses and nonfilers not taking an extra step to get the IRS their information.

Much like with the first and second checks, you’ll likely be able to claim any missing money from the third check owed to you or your dependents during tax season next year, 2022. However, the IRS has yet to say if there will be an opportunity to claim missing money in 2021 instead. The best thing to do right now to make sure your third check does arrive is to file your tax return as soon as possible, even if you don’t usually have to file one.

For more, check out what you should and shouldn’t do if you’re still waiting for your third stimulus check to arrive, and what we know so far about a potential fourth stimulus payment

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