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Recovery Rebate Credit: What it is and how to claim it [a final call 2024 guide for expats]

Recovery Rebate Credit: What it is and how to claim it [a final call 2024 guide for expats]

Don't assume you're ineligible just because you're miles from home. The Recovery Rebate Credit could still be yours for the taking.

In the whirlwind that was the COVID-19 pandemic, the US government launched a financial lifeboat for its citizens: the Recovery Rebate Credit.

This provision, nestled within the sprawling CARES Act, aimed to keep the economic ship afloat during unprecedented times.

Fast forward to today, and the clock is ticking louder than ever. With 2024 on the horizon, the final call to claim any missed payments from this era-defining credit is upon us.

This isn't just another tax deadline; it's the last chance saloon for claiming what could be a significant financial boost.

Understanding the Recovery Rebate Credit

What is the Recovery Rebate Credit?

The Recovery Rebate Credit emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as a beacon of hope amid the economic turmoil of the pandemic.

Designed as a refundable tax credit, it provided immediate financial relief to eligible taxpayers in the form of Economic Impact Payments – more commonly known as stimulus checks.

But it wasn't just a one-off gesture; the credit spanned three distinct waves, adapting to the evolving financial needs of Americans.

Why it matters to you

For many, the Recovery Rebate Credit was more than just a number on a tax form; it was a lifeline.

Whether it helped cover essential bills, reduce debt, or simply provide a financial cushion, the impact of this credit on eligible taxpayers was profound.

And for those who may have missed out on one or more payments, the stakes are even higher.

The opportunity to claim this credit represents a chance to recoup significant funds that are rightfully yours.

The three waves of economic impact payments

The US Treasury dispatched three rounds of stimulus checks to eligible Americans:

  1. First wave: Up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per qualifying child in April 2020.
  2. Second wave: Up to $600 per adult and child in December 2020.
  3. Third wave: Up to $1,400 per adult and child starting in March 2021.

These payments were automatic for most, but not all, which is where the Recovery Rebate Credit comes into play.

Eligibility criteria

Who qualifies for the Recovery Rebate Credit?

Eligibility for the Recovery Rebate Credit mirrors that of the EIPs but with a catch: it's for those who didn't receive their full payment(s).

To qualify, you must:

  • Be a US citizen or resident alien in 2020 and/or 2021,
  • Not be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return,
  • Have a Social Security number valid for employment.

Special considerations for expats

For US citizens living abroad, the Recovery Rebate Credit is still within reach, but there are nuances to be aware of.

Key considerations include:

  • Expats must ensure they file US tax returns to claim the credit, even if they owe no US taxes due to foreign earned income exclusions or tax treaties.
  • Additionally, the IRS's criteria for residency and income may differ for expats, so it's crucial to understand how these might affect your eligibility.

Expats should also be aware of the potential impact on their state taxes, if applicable, and consider the Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) requirements when receiving their credit.

Claiming your credit

The ticking clock: 2024 deadlines

As we all know, procrastination is like a credit card: it's a lot of fun until you get the bill. And in the case of the Recovery Rebate Credit, that bill comes due in 2024.

For those who haven’t yet filed a tax return for 2020, the legal deadline is May 17, 2024 IRS

Yes, dear taxpayers, the sand in the hourglass is running perilously low. If you've been putting off claiming your credit with the same enthusiasm you reserve for scheduling a root canal, now's the time to buckle down and file.

Remember, Uncle Sam's generosity has an expiration date, and it's fast approaching.

Step-by-step guide to claiming the credit

Filing for the 2020 and 2021 tax years might seem as daunting as deciphering an ancient code, right?

Here's a simplified guide to help you through the process:

  1. Gather your documents: This includes your Social Security number, any IRS letters regarding EIPs (Notices 1444, 1444-B, and 1444-C), and your 2020 and 2021 income information.
  2. Determine your eligibility: Review the criteria to ensure you're eligible for the credit. If you're an expat, pay special attention to the nuances that apply to you.
  3. Calculate your credit: Use the information from your EIP letters and your income to determine how much you're owed.
  4. File your tax return: Whether you're filing for 2020 or 2021, ensure you accurately report the Recovery Rebate Credit on your return. If you're unsure how to proceed, consider seeking help from a tax professional or using reputable tax software.

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Common pitfalls to avoid

In your quest to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit, here are some mythical beasts to slay:

  • Double-dipping: If you've already received the full amount of your EIPs, claiming the credit is akin to reaching for a second slice of cake when you've already had your share. The IRS will notice, and they'll adjust your return accordingly.
  • Incorrect amounts: Reporting the wrong amount of EIP received is a common mistake. Ensure your numbers match the IRS's records to avoid delays.
  • Filing late: Remember, the deadline isn't just a suggestion – it's the cutoff for claiming your credit. Mark your calendar, set reminders, and maybe even send yourself a carrier pigeon. Whatever it takes to remember to file on time.

Maximizing your recovery rebate credit

Ensuring you claim the correct amount

To paraphrase a famous goldilocks, you want your Recovery Rebate Credit to be just right – not too much, not too little.

Here's how to ensure you hit the sweet spot:

  • Use IRS resources: The IRS offers a plethora of tools and FAQs on their website. Use these to ensure you're calculating your credit correctly.
  • Review your EIP notices: These letters from the IRS detail the amounts you were paid. They're the key to knowing how much you should claim.

What if you received too much or too little?

Dealing with discrepancies in your EIPs is like finding an unexpected plot twist in your favorite novel – surprising, but manageable.

Here's what to do:

  • Received too much? The IRS has stated that you won't need to repay any excess amount received due to an error on their part. However, ensure this is the case by double-checking your calculations.
  • Received too little? If you calculate that you're owed more than you received, the Recovery Rebate Credit is your path to rectifying this oversight. Include the correct amount on your tax return, and the IRS will top up your refund.


As we approach the final curtain call for the Recovery Rebate Credit, it's crucial to remember what's at stake.

This isn't just about numbers on a tax return; it's about claiming a piece of relief that was designed for you during one of the most challenging periods in recent history.

We encourage you to review your eligibility, gather your documents, and file your claim before the 2024 deadline.

Remember, this isn't just about getting money back – it's about taking a step toward financial recovery and resilience.

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Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX