October 6, 2021

IRS stimulus check update: No, those recovery rebate credit error letters are not a scam

Over the last few weeks, an untold number of taxpayers have been confused by the arrival of not one but two letters from the Internal Revenue Service.

The first letter (CP11, CP12, or CP13) notified taxpayers that the IRS had made changes to their tax returns. Because of these changes, the taxpayer either owes money, is due a refund (or their refund amount changed), or now has a balance of zero.

So far, so good, right?

However, the confusion for many began with the arrival of a second notice (letter 6470), which referenced the first letter, notified recipients they had a right to appeal the first letter, and then apologized for not mentioning the appeal part the first time around. These second letters began arriving in people’s mailboxes recently, leading many taxpayers to speculate on social media and in Facebook groups whether they might be a scam.

They’re not a scam. The IRS had previously sent out about 5 million faulty “math error notices” that neglected to inform taxpayers of their right to appeal. Specifically, these notices were sent to people who claimed the recovery rebate credit—that’s the credit that lets you claim your stimulus checks if you were eligible but never received one. In the vast majority of cases, the math error notices were likely informing people that they weren’t eligible for a recovery rebate that they’d tried to claim, or that the rebate amount would be smaller.

But because the math error notices didn’t inform taxpayers of their full legal rights, the IRS had to basically eat crow and resend letters to every single one of those people, notifying them of their right to appeal, and apologizing for the omission. That’s what letter 6470 is all about.

It’s important to note, however, that the original math error notices were not invalidated because of the omission. In other words, if you truly did make a miscalculation on your tax return—and you’re not actually eligible for a recovery rebate credit—responding to letter 6470 isn’t going to make a difference. In fact, the letter clearly states, “If you agree with the changes we made, you don’t need to take further action.”

If you’ve double checked your math and still believe you’re entitled to the credit, you have to appeal within 60 days, but you will very likely have to provide documentation to prove your eligibility. The best thing to do is call the number provided on the letter and start there. If you are not able resolve this issue, please contact our office at (207) 888-8800.