Congress is sending out stimulus payments for individuals as part of its coronavirus economic relief plan, called the CARES Act (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act). The stimulus checks are one-time payments of up to $1,200 per person. Those who file joint tax returns will get up to $2,400, and taxpayers with children will get an extra $500 per child under the age of 17.
Some examples: A family of four earning $140,000 will get a check for $3,400. A single mother with one child making $100,000 will get $1,700. A 70-year-old retiree whose only income is Social Security will get $1,200.
The only individuals who aren't eligible for the stimulus check are those without Social Security numbers (nonresident aliens), those who are claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return, and those who are incarcerated.
What about children? Parents will get an extra $500 for each child who hasn't reached age 17 (anyone who qualifies for the child tax credit), with no limit on the number of children. Most parents claim their 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds on their tax return, but these children are counted as "other dependents," and parents will not get an additional $500 for these children in their stimulus check. Despite this, these teenagers will not be able to collect a stimulus check on their own as long as they are claimed as "other dependents" on their parents' tax return.
What about people who don't pay taxes? There is no requirement that you paid taxes in 2018 or 2019. This means that even those people whose only source of income is Social Security retirement or disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or veterans benefits are eligible for the $1,200 payment. (And for eligibility purposes, the stimulus check won't count as income to SSI or veterans benefits recipients, and won't count as resources unless an SSI recipient has money left over from the check 12 months after receiving it.)
Those who received monthly Social Security benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, SSI, or veterans benefits in 2019 will automatically get the stimulus check whether they file tax returns or not. Others who haven't filed tax returns for the 2018 or 2019 tax year will get the stimulus check only if they file a tax return or submit non-filer information with the IRS (more on this below).
What about people receiving unemployment? Those collecting unemployment benefits are eligible to receive the stimulus payment.
What about individuals who are incarcerated? People who are in jail or prison for 30 days or more are not eligible for the coronavirus check. The same is true for those who have been institutionalized by court order after being found guilty but insane, not guilty by reason of insanity, or incompetent to stand trial for such an offense; and for those who are in violation of probation or parole for 30 days or more.
Higher-income earners will get less than $1,200 per person, and higher-income families will get less than $500 per child.
What number does the IRS look at for income? The IRS uses your income from 2019 (if you filed your 2019 tax return already), or your 2018 income (if you haven't). The number the IRS will look at is your adjusted gross income, which is your income without 401(k) contributions but before your standard or itemized deductions are taken out. You can find your adjusted gross income on line 8b of your Form 1040 for 2019 or line 7 of your Form 1040 for 2018.
How much are checks reduced by? Single people who make over $75,000 will have their checks reduced by 5% of the amount over $75,000, and married people who file joint returns will have their checks reduced by 5% of the amount over $150,000. Taxpayers who file as head of household will have their checks reduced by 5% of the amount over $112,500. The $500 that parents receive for each child is subject to the same reduction as well.
Note that the stimulus payments are not taxable and are not subject to garnishment by the government for back taxes or student loan defaults. However, the same is not true for past due child support payments or private debts. If your state has reported your overdue child support to the Treasury Department, your stimulus check will be reduced by the amount you owe. Read our article on child support offsets for more information, including how to find out whether your name is on the Treasury Offset list. In addition, private debt collectors can levy or garnish your stimulus money; read our article on protecting your stimulus money for more information.
For those who have e-filed tax returns with the IRS in the past and provided the IRS with their direct deposit information, the IRS direct-deposited stimulus money starting in mid-April 10 and continued into mid-May.
On April 29, the IRS processed payments for millions of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefit recipients who did not file tax returns. The IRS processed payments to SSI and veterans benefit recipients on May 13.
Other individuals will receive their payments by mail. The IRS started mailing checks April 24, starting with the low-income individuals, and expects to continue mailing checks through September.
Some individuals can shorten the wait if they take steps to alert the IRS to their circumstances.
What if I haven't filed a tax return recently? Those who haven't filed a tax return, including those who earn little income and recent college graduates, face the possibility of having to wait until 2021 to get their stimulus rebate. Filing a tax return for 2019 taxes or submitting "non-filer" information to the IRS (see below) will ensure they will receive their stimulus payment this year.
Social Security and SSI recipients who don't file tax returns and first started to receive benefits in 2020 also have to submit non-filer information to the IRS.
While individuals who received Social Security, SSI, or veterans benefits will automatically get the stimulus money, they will not get $500 for each child under 17 unless they filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 or they submitted non-filer information to the IRS. Parents who receive any type of Social Security benefit had until noon on April 22 to file non-filer information; SSI recipients had until May 5.
What if I missed the non-filer deadline? Parents who missed the deadline have to wait until 2021 to claim the extra $500; they will have to file a 2020 tax return by April 15, 2021.
How do I submit a non-filer tax return? If you don't generally file tax returns, the IRS has partnered with two free websites for you to enter your personal information into a "simple tax return" to get the stimulus payment: Free File Fillable Forms and TurboTax. When you go to Free File's non-filer page or TurboTax's stimulus registration page, you'll be asked to create an account. Then you'll provide your Social Security number, driver's license number, filing status, and banking information (if you want direct deposit). Don't submit this simple tax return if you plan to file your 2019 tax return or you have already.
What if I've moved? If you moved since filing your last tax return, and you don't want to sign up for direct deposit, you may have an even longer wait. You can always file a change of address form with the IRS on Form 8822—or if, you haven't filed your 2019 taxes yet, filing your return would also update your address (and potentially your direct deposit information) with the IRS.
What if I've never used direct deposit for a refund? Individuals who do file tax returns but get their tax refund by check (or haven't gotten a refund in recent years) had until May 13 to use the IRS's "Get My Payment" tool to submit bank information to the IRS rather than waiting for a check by mail. You should still be able to use the Get My Payment tool to find out what day your stimulus payment will be deposited and what bank account it will be deposited to.
If you have issues with using Get My Payment or with your stimulus payment, see our article on what do if you don't get a stimulus check or it's for the wrong amount. (Note: If you submit non-filer information to the IRS (see above), you do not need to submit deposit information through Get My Payment.)
The stimulus payments, which the IRS calls "economic impact payments," are part of a $2 trillion package to help the economy bounce back from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The payment you will receive is actually an advance payment of a refundable credit that will be calculated with your 2020 taxes (the tax return you need to file by April 15, 2021).
If you made too much money in 2019 or 2018 to get the full stimulus payment, but you end up making less income in 2020 than you did in prior years, you could get a stimulus payment as a rebate in 2021. Luckily, if you make more money in 2020 than you did in 2019 or 2018, you should not have to pay back part or all of your stimulus payment in 2021.
Updated May 13, 2020