Dear Penny: My Stimulus Check Came up $1,500 Short. Is My Ex to Blame?

A child hugs their mother who is in a wheelchair.
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Dear Penny,

I’ve been on permanent disability and receiving SSI for about 12 years. I don’t file tax returns because I don’t work. 

I applied for my stimulus check on the IRS website the first day I could.

I have three dependent children under 17. I filled out the form on the “Get My Payment” website and included my bank routing number, my personal info and listed my children, along with their Social Security numbers. 

I finally received my $1,200 mid-May, but there was nothing for my children. There should have been $1,500, as I’ve had primary custody since January 2014 and currently have sole custody. 

I collect public assistance for them, as my ex has never paid child support. He says he didn’t list them as dependents on his tax returns, but why else would I have not received the stimulus for the kids? 

I can’t find any answers with the IRS. I know if he did list them as dependents, they would have put that money toward his back child support that he owes the state.

I don’t even know how to find out whether he listed them as his dependents. I’m in a financial bind and we could really have benefitted from that $1,500. 

How can I find out where it went and why I didn’t receive the stimulus for them?


Dear H.,

I suspect that the IRS, rather than your ex, is to blame for the fact that your stimulus check was short by $1,500.

But you’re not going to get any answers from the IRS. If you call the stimulus check hotline, you’re unlikely to get anything more than a Choose Your Own Adventure-style series of automated messages.

And even if you were to get through to a human at the IRS, they wouldn’t be allowed to give you information about your ex’s tax return. The most they could tell you is that someone else claimed them and then ask both people for documentation.

But your kids’ father had nothing to gain by illegally claiming the children as his dependents. Any additional tax refund he’d get would go back to the state. And if his tax refund is seized for unpaid child support, his coronavirus check, including the extra $500 per child credits will be, as well.

A lot of parents didn’t receive the $500 credits for their children in their checks. Anecdotally speaking, many of them seem to be recipients of government benefits, like SSI. The IRS issued a lot of confusing guidance for people receiving these benefits, but ultimately, it came down to:

We can get your information from Social Security, SSI, etc., to process your $1,200 payment. But if you have dependent kids, use the non-filer tool (the feature at that allows you to provide your information if you don’t file taxes) to submit your kids’ information so you can get the $500 credits.

Just to be clear here: It sounds like you did everything right.

One possible explanation is that the IRS used the information it got from SSI instead of the information you provided using the non-filer tool.

The bad news: For now, the IRS has said that the only way to fix a payment error is to wait until next year and file a 2020 tax return to get the difference.

But I get it: You need that money now, not six or seven months from now.

Check with your child support case manager to see if you’re eligible for any of your children’s father’s coronavirus check.

Unfortunately, most states say that if someone owes child support to both the state and the custodial parent, the state gets paid first when their refund is garnished. But at least two states that I’m aware of — California and Oregon — have said they’ll direct stimulus checks to the custodial parent first.

Beyond that, you’ll need to look for other forms of assistance. A good place to start in navigating the hodgepodge of resources in your community is United Way’s 211 hotline. You dial 211 on your phone, and you’re connected with someone who can help you find assistance in your area. They may be able to guide you to local housing assistance or food banks, for example.

It isn’t fair that you’ll probably be waiting awhile before you can get the money you’re entitled to. But while we can cross our fingers in hopes that the IRS comes up with a faster way to resolve this error, be realistic and assume that you’ll have to survive without this $1,500 for now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].