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Taxation of 2020 Unemployment Benefits - March 2021

A record number of Americans applied for unemployment compensation in 2020 due to the pandemic. Anyone who received unemployment benefits will need to report it on their tax returns.

However, the American Rescue Plan, enacted on March 11, 2021, excludes from income up to $10,200 ($20,400 if married filing jointly) of unemployment compensation received in 2020 for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income under qualifying thresholds. Any amount over $10,200 is still taxable for each person. To determine if payments received for being unemployed are taxable, see the Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov.

For those who have already filed their 2020 tax return and paid taxes on the full amount of unemployment compensation before the law was passed, they should not file an amended return. The IRS will automatically refund money to people who already filed their tax return reporting unemployment compensation.

The IRS will recompute any credits and deductions claimed on the original return. However, if the reduction of income now qualifies a taxpayer for a new credit not claimed on the original return, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), those taxpayers will need to file an amended tax return, Form 1040x, to claim the new credit. Taxpayers can see if they qualify for the EITC at IRS.gov.

Unemployment benefit recipients should have received a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments, from the agency paying the benefits. The form will show the amount of unemployment compensation they received in 2020 in Box 1, and any federal income tax withheld in Box 4.

Some states do not mail Form 1099-Gs. Taxpayers may need to get the electronic version from their state's website.

Taxpayers who received an incorrect Form 1099-G for unemployment benefits they did not receive should contact the issuing state agency to request a revised Form 1099-G showing they did not receive these benefits.

Taxpayers who are unable to obtain a timely, corrected form from their state should still file an accurate tax return, reporting only the income they received. A corrected Form 1099-G showing zero unemployment benefits in cases of identity theft will help taxpayers avoid an unexpected federal tax bill for unreported income.

Generally, by law, unemployment compensation must be included as income. Taxable benefits include any of the special unemployment compensation authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted in 2020. If a taxpayer didn’t report income from unemployment compensation on a return, a corrected return can be filed using Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Form 1040-X can be filed electronically.