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Coronavirus relief checks: How much, when and other questions answered

Kiplinger logo Kiplinger 2 days ago Rocky Mengle
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People have a lot of questions about the economic relief checks that will be sent soon. We have answers.

Uncle Sam is going to be sending you a check soon. To counter the coronavirus-induced economic meltdown, the Trump administration and Congressional leaders worked out a massive economic aid plan that will flood the U.S. economy with cash and provide relief for Americans who are taking a financial hit. Part of the plan is to send us all direct payments from the government's coffers. But there are a lot of unanswered questions about these payments. At the top of the list: How much will we all get? And when will we get it?

Fortunately, we have answers to these and other frequently asked questions about the checks. We also have a handy Check Calculator that tells you how much money you can expect (everyone's check will be different). Read on to get the answers you need to the questions you have. Once you know more about the payments, you can start figuring out how you can use the money to your advantage.

SEE ALSO: 11 Coronavirus Aid Measures That Could Help You in 2020

How Many Checks Will I Get?

You'll get just one payment. Earlier proposals called for multiple checks. One plan put forth by a group of Democratic Senators even required quarterly payments to Americans until the crisis ends. However, the law signed by President Trump only authorizes a single payment.

How Much Money Will I Get?

Everyone wants to know how much money they will get. You may have heard that checks will be for $1,200--but it's not that simple. That's just the base amount. Your check could actually be much higher or lower.

To calculate the amount of your check, Uncle Sam will start with that $1,200 figure. If you're married and file a joint tax return, then both you and your spouse will get $1,200 (for a total of $2,400). If you have children who qualify for the child tax credit (they must be 16 years old or younger), you get an additional $500 for each child. So, for example, a married couple with two children can get up to $3,400.

Now the bad news. Payment amounts will be phased-out for people at certain income levels. Your check will be gradually reduced to zero if you're single, married filing a separate tax return, or a qualifying widow(er) with an adjusted gross income (AGI) above $75,000. If you're married and file a joint tax return, the amount of your check will drop if your AGI exceeds $150,000. If you claim the head-of-household filing status on your tax return, your payment will be reduced if your AGI tops $112,500.

Also note that the IRS, which will issue the payments, will look at your 2019 tax return for your filing status, AGI, and information about your children. If you haven't yet filed your 2019 return (now due July 15), the IRS will go to your 2018 return for the necessary information.

Again, we have an easy-to-use Check Calculator to help you figure out the estimated amount of your check (based on either your 2018 or 2019 return). Check it out!

If I Haven't Filed My 2019 Return Yet, Should I Do That Now or Wait?

There's an opportunity to manipulate the amount of your check if you haven't already filed your 2019 return. For some people, you could end up with a larger check depending on whether you file your 2019 return right away or wait to file until after you get your payment. To find out which is better, use the Check Calculator to run the numbers using both your 2018 and projected 2019 returns (a best guess for 2019 will do in a pinch). If you get a higher amount using your 2018 return, wait to file. If the amount is better using 2019 numbers, then file as soon as you can.

If I Wait to File My 2019 Return to Get a Bigger Check, Will I Have to Pay Back the Difference Later?

Let's say you wait to file your 2019 return because your check will be $100 more if the IRS bases your payment on your 2018 return. Will you get to keep that additional $100?

That's still an open question. The way the law is written, the checks that will be sent now are actually just advanced payments of a new refundable tax credit for the 2020 tax year. We don't know yet how the IRS will treat payments that are more than the 2020 tax credit amount. (If the check is less than the authorized credit, you'll get the difference when you file your 2020 return.)

On the one hand, the IRS is authorized to issue regulations or guidance "deemed appropriate to avoid allowing multiple credits or rebates to a taxpayer." They might use this authority to get the $100 back (e.g., through an additional tax on your 2020 tax return). On the other hand, there's nothing in the new law saying the IRS will take back payments that are more than the tax credit amount. There was no mechanism for giving back any "extra" money when similar payments were issued back in 2008, either. But, then again, all the 2008 stimulus checks were based on the same year's tax return.

We'll keep an eye out for IRS guidance addressing this situation, so check back later. However, even if you end up having to give some of your check back to Uncle Sam, that's not necessarily a terrible thing. You might need the cash more now than you'll need it later, and you can treat the additional amount as an interest-free loan from the government.

What If I Didn't File a Tax Return in 2018 or 2019?

Some people didn't file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 because their income didn't reach the filing requirement threshold--especially since the standard deduction was nearly doubled starting with the 2018 tax year. According to the IRS, people who typically don't file a tax return will need to file a simple tax return to receive a check. Low-income taxpayers, senior citizens, Social Security recipients, some veterans and individuals with disabilities who are otherwise not required to file a tax return will not owe tax, though. In addition, the law authorizes the IRS to pull information from a 2019 Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement, to calculate your check amount if it doesn't have a 2018 or 2019 tax return with your name on it.

However, even if you don't get a check now, you won't lose out on the money--you'll just have to wait until next year to get it. As we already noted, the checks that will be sent now are really just advanced payments of a new 2020 tax credit. So, if you don't get a payment in 2020, you can claim it next year as a refund or reduction of the tax you owe if you file a 2020 tax return by April 15, 2021.

Will Lower-Income People Get Smaller Checks?

An earlier version of the bill that passed did provide smaller checks for lower-income Americans; however, that is not part of the bill ultimately signed by the president. Under the earlier version, taxpayers with little or no income tax liability, but at least $2,500 of "qualifying income" (earned income, Social Security retirement benefits, and certain compensation and pension benefits paid to veterans), would have gotten a minimum rebate check of only $600 ($1,200 for joint filers). Again, however, that provision was dropped from the bill and is not part of the new law.

When Will I Get My Check?

President Trump has said that he wants checks to be delivered within a couple of weeks. That may be a bit too ambitious, though. The law instructs the IRS to send payments "as rapidly as possible." But remember, the IRS is short-staffed right now thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Back in 2008, it took a couple of months for a fully-staff IRS to get similar checks in the mail.

One advantage the IRS has now, though, is the fact that the vast majority of taxpayers have refunds directly deposited into their bank accounts now. That means the tax agency already has bank account numbers and bank routing numbers for millions of Americans. With that information in hand, the IRS can make electronic payments to a lot of people. This method of payment takes far less time than printing and mailing a paper check. The IRS will attempt to make payments electronically for anyone who authorized the direct deposit of a refund into their bank account at any point after 2017. The IRS also plans to develop a web-based portal that you can use to provide your banking information to the IRS online. That will let the IRS send you a payment electronically instead of sending you a check in the mail.

If a direct deposit is rejected (e.g., if the bank account information is incorrect), the IRS will receive a rejection notice. At that point, the payment will be converted to a paper check and mailed to you.

Will the Money I Get Now Be Taxed Later?

No. As we mentioned earlier, the check you receive is really just an advanced payment of a tax credit for the 2020 tax year. As such, it won't be included in your taxable income.

What If I Had a Child in 2019, But I Haven't Filed My 2019 Return Yet?

If you had a baby last year, but you haven't filed your 2019 return, you might be worried about losing $500 because the IRS doesn't know about your new bundle of joy. That actually could be a problem--you won't get that extra $500 if you don't file before the IRS starts processing your payment. However, if you have a child now that isn't reflected on your 2018 return, you'll be able to account for him or her when you file your 2020 return next year (you'll get an extra $500 credit then). So, while you won't get that extra $500 in your check now, you'll still get it later.

In fact, if your check is less than what you're entitled to receive for any reason, you can make up the difference with an extra tax credit on your 2020 return.

What If My Child Turned 17 in 2019, But I Haven't Filed My 2019 Return Yet?

You only get an additional $500 for a child who qualifies for the child tax credit. That means your son or daughter can't be older than 16. However, what if your child turned 17 in 2019, but you haven't filed your 2019 tax return yet (which would show the child's current age)? Are you going to get an extra $500 based on your child's age as reflected on your 2018 return? If so, will you get to keep that additional amount?

Those are still open questions. On the one hand, the IRS will know your child's current age based on your 2018 tax return (they can just add a year), so they might just go ahead and adjust your check accordingly. On the other hand, as we mentioned earlier, if a stimulus check was larger than it should have been back in 2008, there was no way to pay back the extra money. We don't know yet which way the IRS will go this time around.

Again, we'll let our readers know if the IRS issues guidance addressing this and other situations where a check is more than it should be.

Will Young Adults Who Live with Their Parents Get a Check?

Anyone who can be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return (whether or not they are actually claimed as a dependent) won't receive a check and can't claim the tax credit on their 2020 return. That means no payments to children living at home who are 17 or 18 years old, or to college students who are 23 or younger at the end of the year who don't pay at least half of their own expenses.

Other dependents won't receive payments, either. For example, an elderly parent living with you are out of luck and won't get a check.

Will 'Nonresident Aliens' Get a Check?

Nonresident aliens are not eligible to receive a check. Generally, you are a nonresident alien if you're not a U.S. citizen, you don't have a green card, and you are not physically present in the U.S. for the required amount of time. For more information on nonresident alien status, see IRS Publication 519.

(Trusts and estates are not eligible for checks, either.)

Do I Have to Have a Social Security Number to Get a Check?

Yes, you must have a Social Security number to receive a check. Your spouse and any child you're receiving $500 for must also have a social security number. An individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) is not good enough.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, an adopted child can have an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN) instead of a Social Security number. Second, for married members of the U.S. armed forces, only one spouse needs to have a Social Security number.

Will the IRS Take My Check If I Owe Back Taxes?

Aid money is generally not subject to reduction or offset to pay back taxes or other debts owed to the federal government.

What If My Check Doesn't Arrive?

Within 15 days of mailing your check (or directly depositing it into your bank account), you will receive a notice in the mail indicating the method of payment, the amount of payment, and an IRS phone number to call if you didn't receive your payment.

Both the payment (paper check) and notice will be mailed to your last known address the IRS has on file. If you have recently moved, you should file a Form 8822 with the IRS and a change of address notice with the U.S. Postal Service. This will ensure correspondence and payments from the IRS will be sent to your new address.

SEE ALSO: Online Grocery Shopping in the Coronavirus Era: 8 Things You Must Know

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