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Stimulus checks will be shielded from some debt, but still not collectors

March 16, 2021, 2:20 PM UTC

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There’s a new protective shield over the Round 3 stimulus checks, but if you’re heavily in debt, you still might not see the $1,400, depending on who you owe.

The Internal Revenue Service has agreed not to deduct federal tax debts from the most recent economic stimulus payments. But other forms of debt, including state taxes and private lending, are still vulnerable.

Late last year, Congress changed how debts on things like unpaid federal and state taxes, Social Security and Veterans Affairs debts, student loan debt, and child support obligations would be handled. Instead of receiving checks, people facing those obligations would receive a credit on their 2020 taxes instead.

That raised the ire of taxpayer advocates. Erin Collins, who runs the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the IRS that represents consumers, wrote in a blog post Monday that the IRS had agreed to bypass those offsets, meaning the checks will go directly to people.

The IRS, though, doesn’t have authority over state debts. And there’s still a loophole in the legislation that will allow debt collectors to seize the money. (The change in exemption comes because the relief package was passed via budget reconciliation, rather than as a standalone bill. That let Democrats avoid a possible filibuster by Republicans, but created the opening for collectors.)

Advocacy groups, including the American Bankers Association, are urging Congress to prevent collectors from garnishing the money. And Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he intends to file separate legislation to do just that. But time is running out.

Some $1,400 checks are already appearing in people’s accounts—and many big banks say they expect a flood of them to arrive Wednesday.