The Moneyist: I received my ex-husband’s $1,200 stimulus check because we filed joint taxes in 2018. Should I keep the money, give it to him or return it to the IRS?

The Moneyist

‘I don’t want to give it over now, only to receive an overpayment letter later and have to pay it back’

The Moneyist answers dilemmas in an age of coronavirus.

Dear Moneyist,

I received my ex-husband’s stimulus money because we filed joint tax returns in 2018. Do I give this to him or wait for the Internal Revenue Service to take it back? It’s hard to see the IRS saying, “Hey, go ahead and pass it along,” so I just want to cover my bases. I don’t want to give it over now, only to receive an overpayment letter later, and have to pay it back.

How is this handled?

Veronica

Dear Veronica,

Approximately half of Americans have received their stimulus thus far, and you are one of the lucky ones. Your husband? Not so much. At least, not yet. Assuming you have a cordial relationship with your ex-husband — or as cordial as one can expect with a divorce — I suggest reaching out to him before he reaches out to you. He will appreciate it, I’m sure, and figure out soon enough why he didn’t receive his economic impact payment.

Half of this money should, of course, go to him. The real question is when. The IRS does not have penalties for people who have NOT returned money the agency sent in error, but it does have simpler rules on what you should do with such money. The agency says stimulus checks sent to dead people should be returned. (That’s a no-brainer.) In your case? If your former spouse needs the money now, you could agree to help him out now.

Dispatches from a pandemic:Letter from New York: ‘New Yorkers wear colorful homemade masks, while nurses wear garbage bags.’

The IRS is experiencing severe staff shortages, but it will (likely) send you a notice within 15 days of receiving this money and provide a phone number for people who either received too little an economic impact payment, too much or nothing at all. It’s unclear how the IRS will handle a case such as yours, if you did not contact the agency. It could deduct it from your 2020 tax return and make your husband whole in his 2020 return.

It will also depend on whether you received an actual check or whether this money was deposited in your bank account. According to Alliant, “For those who receive a check made out to you and a joint filer, make sure to endorse the check with both of your names and deposit it into an account you hold jointly. Checks from the government written to two parties can’t be deposited into a single owner’s account.”

It’s not an ideal situation and may require not a small amount of trust between you and your ex, if $2,400 rather than $1,200 was deposited into your account. Look at it this way: It’s an opportunity to show this man some post-divorce goodwill and, perhaps, help each other out during the pandemic. Start by hitting up your ex-husband with honesty, integrity and transparency — and, to quote an internet 1.0 clickbait headline, “See what happens next…”

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here

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