The Moneyist: My son, a college student, received 3 stimulus checks. I’m a dad trying to teach ethical behavior? What should we do?


Dear Quentin,

Our dependent son — a college student — has received three stimulus payments to date, which we believe he may not be entitled to. He has deposited them, but has not spent the money. Does he need to return them?

He filed taxes because we have a 529 college savings plan in his name. Other than that, he has no reportable income. We checked, and his tax returns clearly state that a third party, his parents, claim him as a dependent.

If he is not supposed to have received the money, how can he go about returning it?

Thank you.

Dad Trying to Teach Ethical Behavior

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

Dear Dad,

I have no doubt that you already teach and lead by example.

Yes, you are correct: If your son was an adult dependent over the age of 16, he did not qualify for the first two stimulus checks. Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, however, dependent students may receive the full stimulus.

This time around, dependent students like your son and independent students — including college graduates and undergraduates older than 24 — will receive the full $1,400 payment if they have an income of $75,000 a year or less.

In the first round of stimulus checks last year, the parents of dependents aged 16 or younger were entitled to $500 payments; that figure rose to $600 with the second round of economic stimulus payments; under the third batch, adult dependents can qualify for the entire amount ($1,400).

If your son is claimed as an adult dependent on your taxes, you should receive the payment on his behalf.

The latest economic stimulus payments decrease for individuals earning $75,000 and up — and they phase out completely for individuals making $80,000 or more and couples making $160,000 or more in adjusted gross income.

It bears repeating: The $1,400 stimulus check is not a loan. This third stimulus check is an advanced tax credit on your 2021 taxes, and calculated based on your 2020 taxes. You could wait to see what the IRS does, of course, but that leaves another question: Should he pay it back? Yes. And, therefore, how?

If your son is claimed as an adult dependent on your taxes, as you say, you should receive the payment on his behalf. If you and he have both received a check for your son, you’re right, that’s one too many. The IRS gives some guidelines here on how to return an erroneous refund.

I have received hundreds of emails from who have not received their stimulus payments, and many like yours. People have also said their checks were garnished for unpaid child support, while some taxpayers say they’ve received stimulus checks for dead relatives. It’s been quite a year.

As for being a dad teaching ethical behavior, my suggestion is to explain who and who does not qualify for stimulus payments, point out that they were sent to help families who were struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent, and ask your son what he thinks he should do.

After giving it some thought, his answer may surprise you.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at

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