Kelly Phillips Erb Senior Contributor
Last month, I wrote a primer on stimulus checks, and I've been updating it as I field your questions: thanks for asking!
I thought it might be helpful to tackle some of the most commonly asked questions in a separate article. Here’s what you’ve been asking - along with my answers - regarding those tax stimulus checks.
How big will my check be? Checks will be $1,200 per adult - or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly - and an additional $500 per child.
But I didn't work last year - or I am a senior on a reduced income - I thought I was left out? Or that I got a smaller amount, like $600? No. One of the original Senate proposals did include language that would limit checks for low-income Americans to earned income or $600. This is no longer the case. There is no minimum income needed to qualify for a check.
Are there income limits on checks? The amount of the checks would start to phaseout for those earning more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns and $112,500 for heads of household) and are subject to phaseouts (more on those here). This is adjusted gross income (AGI), not taxable income - so before your standard or itemized deductions. You'll see your number on line 8(b) of your form 1040:
As a senior citizen, my only source of income is Social Security benefits, so I haven't filed taxes for 2018 or 2019. I read that to receive the stimulus money, I must file 2019 taxes. Is that true? The short answer is no, you don’t have to file a return. The longer answer is that it wasn't true and then it was, and now it isn't again. You can find more details here.
What about SSDI or VA benefits? As things stand, you do have to file to a return to get a check if you do not receive a Form 1099-SSA or RRB equivalent. However, a group of 45 Senators reached out last week to request that Treasury provide stimulus payments automatically to recipients of benefits through the Veterans Administration or the Supplemental Security Income program, without requiring them to file a tax return. I'll keep you posted.
You wrote that I couldn't get a check for my child who is in college because of his age, even though I claimed him as a dependent. He works. Can he get his own check? Not if your child is a dependent (you can read more here). There is a suggested fix in the works to change this, but I don't know if it's going to happen in time.
My mom is a senior citizen, and I claim her as a dependent. Can I get a check for her? Unfortunately, no. For purposes of getting the extra $500, the bill uses the same definition as you'd use for the child tax credit. The sticking point for most is age: the child must be under age 17 at the end of the tax year. That means you do not get $500 for a child above the age of 16, even if they live with you and eat your food and spend your money and sleep in your house. The same is true for adults.
Okay, if I can't get the $500 for my mom since I claim her as a dependent, can she get a check? Not if she is a dependent.
I made more money in 2019 than in 2018. Can I wait to file my 2019 return? Of course! Remember that filing and payment dates have been automatically extended for federal income tax returns.
I’ve already filed my 2018 and my 2019 tax returns. Is there an office I can contact to make an appeal to have the decision made on my 2018 return and not 2019 return? I'd be shocked if you could reach anyone at IRS right now, and there's no mechanism for an appeal so far as I know - and an appeal would be contrary to the language in the Act. Since the credit is technically based on your 2020 return (which hasn't been filed yet, which is why they are looking at 2019), if you qualify for the 2020 tax year, you can still apply for it in 2021. All is not lost!
I had a kid in 2020. Will I get a check for my child in 2020? Probably not in 2020 since the IRS doesn't know about your new delivery. But again, since the credit is technically based on your 2020 return, you should be able to adjust to account for the new baby in 2021.
My income is going to be higher in 2020, but I got my check based on my 2019 income, which was lower. Do I have to pay it back? There is no clawback provision in the law, so it should be treated as a math error in your favor if you got too much. You don't have to pay it back.
Is my check taxable? No. This is not taxable income.
Are you sure it's not taxable? What about messing up my benefits? Or my FAFSA? Yep, sure it's not taxable. It won't boost your income and won't affect your benefits.
Are you sure that I don’t have to pay it back? I read that somewhere that it’s an advance and I do have to pay it back. Or that it will reduce my refund. You will not have to pay it back. It is an advance, but it’s an advance of a new, temporary credit for 2020. It will not affect your “normal” refund in 2020. The only folks who should see a difference are those who didn’t get the advance this year but were due one - they’ll get more since they’ll get the credit in 2021 (for the 2020 tax year). You can read more about how it works - with an example - here.
When will I get my check? Checks are supposed to be produced "as rapidly as possible." Mnuchin wants them to begin processing in April so fingers crossed. If you use direct deposit, you'll get your money faster. You can find out more here.
I’ve read that some checks won’t be available until September. How is that possible? Taxpayers who have direct deposit information on file will receive their checks first. Of course, not all taxpayers have current direct deposit information on file so the IRS plans to develop a web-based portal for those individuals to provide their banking information online - but that portal is not up and running yet. If the IRS mails out paper checks, those take longer to process. You can read more here.
I've heard that some people got their checks last week. Is that true? Not unless they can time travel. As of last week, Mnuchin was still touting that they'd be released in April.
Can I get my check faster if I pay for it? No, that's a scam. You can find out more about scams and hoaxes related to stimulus checks here.
Will I still get the check if I owe the IRS some money? Yes. If your refund would normally be seized to pay a tax debt, that shouldn't happen here. The law says no offsets for existing federal tax debts.
What about if I am on an installment plan? Same result: the law says no offsets for existing federal tax debts.
What if my check is usually seized for child support? The law says that checks won't be levied or offset, but there is an exception for child support. Under the law, your check can be seized for child support arrears.
I've seen so many versions circulating on the internet. Where can I find the actual text of the law?
Here it is:
(Here's the link and a tip: When verifying a law, rule or similar, look for government sources, including official websites.)
What does the IRS have to say about all of this? The IRS has confirmed some of this information and will eventually post more information on its website.
Can I call them and ask? The IRS asks that you not call.
What about you? Please don’t call me either (my kids would likely be in the background asking to be fed again). But I’m happy to answer your questions: here's how to ask. I’ll continue to update this article - and remember, you can find more information on the original post here.
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