Day: May 1, 2020

Most major health insurers aren’t charging patients for coronavirus treatment — but there’s one big catch

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Many patients hospitalized for coronavirus treatment won’t have to worry about one headache: If they have health insurance, chances are they won’t be charged out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment. But that doesn’t mean patients can expect a free trip to the hospital, experts told MarketWatch.

The nation’s largest insurers — including Aetna CVS, -3.03% , Anthem ANTM, -4.57% , Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna CI, -4.45% , Humana HUM, -3.37% and UnitedHealthcare UNH, -3.33% — are “waiving cost-sharing” for coronavirus treatment. That means they’re not making patients pay deductibles, copays, coinsurance and other charges if they’re hospitalized with COVID-19, which had killed more than 63,000 Americans as of Friday. (See a full list of what insurers are doing here.)

That’s important news for patients, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that researches national health issues. Millions of Americans are losing jobs as the pandemic cripples parts of the economy, and about one in seven say they would avoid seeking treatment for COVID-19 because they don’t think they could afford it, according to one recent survey. Out-of-pocket treatment costs could run to more than $1,300 for a severe case of COVID-19, even for people with health insurance through their job, a recent analysis by the Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker found.

So if your health insurer is waiving cost-sharing, does it mean you won’t be charged at all if you’re hospitalized for coronavirus? No.

“There’s always a catch,” Pollitz said. “You still could have out-of-pocket costs even if your insurer says they’re going to waive all the cost-sharing.”

Your employer can opt out of waiving out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment

Even though health-insurance companies are waiving cost-sharing for their members, people who get health insurance through their jobs may still end up having to pay for treatment. That’s because employers with “self-funded” or “self-insured” health plans can opt out of waiving cost-sharing for their employees. A self-funded or self-insured health plan means the insurance company administers the plan and the employer pays the claims. So even though your health insurance card may say Aetna on it, your employer could be footing the bill.

Most people who get their health insurance through their job are in a self-funded or self-insured plan, Pollitz said.

If you have health insurance through your job and want to know if your employer is self-funded and whether it’s waiving cost-sharing for coronavirus treatment, call your human-resources department or whoever handles your employer’s health insurance to find out, said Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Patient Advocate Foundation, a nonprofit that provides case management and financial aid to patients with chronic, life-threatening conditions.

Aetna, Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare are all allowing employers with self-funded health plans to opt out of waiving cost-sharing. An Aetna spokesman confirmed that self-funded employers can opt out, but did not comment further; Cigna did not respond to a request for comment.

See also:The harsh realities of being on a ventilator — Would you want this?

Anthem “is strongly encouraging participation by our self-funded employers and will work with them to ensure their employees’ needs are met. These employers will, however, still have the option to opt out of participation,” the company said in an announcement.

‘You still could have out-of-pocket costs even if your insurer says they’re going to waive all the cost-sharing.’

— Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation

Blue Cross Blue Shield spokesman Taylor Laabs said, “BCBS companies are committed to working with self-funded employer groups, state Medicaid and CHIP agencies to ensure that beneficiaries have access to needed testing and services as well.”

A Humana spokesman confirmed that some members may be part of a self-funded plan that opts out of waiving cost-sharing. “While this will not impact a participating provider’s reimbursement, it means that some members may be responsible for their cost share for COVID-19-related treatment,” said spokesman Mark Mathis. “If members are unsure if they fall into this category, they should confirm their coverage with their employer or contact Humana.” Humana members with questions about COVID-19 coverage can look at FAQs posted here.

Employers with self-funded health plans have tough decisions to make

Employers with self-funded plans could see their health-care costs go up if they participate in waiving cost-sharing: Claims could increase by as much as 7% this year, the Society for Human Resource Management wrote in a recent blog post, citing an analysis by the risk-management firm Willis Towers Watson. (SHRM, which represents more than 300,000 human-resources professionals, did not respond to a request for further comment.)

Employers with self-funded plans are deciding whether to waive cost-sharing “at a time when many companies are already struggling with the business impact of COVID-19 and facing the prospect of furloughs and layoffs,” wrote Tracy Watts and Beth Umland of the human-resources consulting firm Mercer. “Any decision that is likely to result in additional cost will need to be weighed carefully.”

Insurers are only waiving cost-sharing for a limited time

Aetna, Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, and UnitedHealthcare are waiving cost-sharing until either May 31 or June 1. Humana has not set an end date. Insurers are continuing to monitor the situation to decide what steps they may need to take next, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans said. “My expectation is if this is still going strong at the end of May, they’ll face pressure to extend those deadlines,” said Donovan of the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

Even with insurers waiving cost-sharing, you could still get a surprise bill

Even if your insurance company doesn’t make you pay a deductible, copay or coinsurance, there’s still a chance you could get hit with a surprise medical bill after a hospitalization, Pollitz said. In its study of COVID-19 treatment costs, the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker estimated that 18% of patients hospitalized with severe pneumonia, which can be a complication of COVID-19, could see bills for out-of-network charges. (Out-of-network charges, also called balance bills or surprise bills, are from providers that haven’t negotiated a billing rate with your health insurance plan.)

Coronavirus patients could end up with a surprise bill if they need treatment from specialists such as pulmonologists or infectious-disease doctors who aren’t in their network, according to a blog post for the health-policy journal Health Affairs.

‘Whenever you go to the hospital, you don’t just get a bill from the hospital, you get a bill from every doctor who comes into the room, who touches your labs, who anesthetizes you.’

“Whenever you go to the hospital, you don’t just get a bill from the hospital — you get a bill from every doctor who comes into the room, who touches your labs, who anesthetizes you,” Pollitz said. “All of those different professionals can bill you separately, so people may get dozens of bills after a hospitalization.”

Curbing surprise medical bills has been a goal of the Trump administration, and it has continued to be a priority during the pandemic. In March, officials announced that patients wouldn’t get surprise bills for coronavirus testing. The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stipulates that hospitals can only accept federal relief if they agree to “abstain from ‘balance billing’ any patient for COVID-related treatment,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

But there are some questions about how exactly surprise billing will be prevented. For example, how will patients be notified that they’re not supposed to get surprise bills, and what do they do if they get one? HHS did not respond to a request for comment.

If you’re hospitalized for COVID-19 and worry about paying the bill, here are some tips:
Don’t pay the bill right away

“You should delay before you pay,” Donovan said. “Things are changing so rapidly on a daily basis. Just because you get a bill today doesn’t mean that some legislation might pass that might mean you don’t have to pay that bill.”

Examine the bill carefully

If anything strikes you as odd, or if you’re being billed for a treatment you don’t remember receiving, call your provider and ask about that part of your bill. Mistakes are common, and often involve a provider billing a patient directly instead of submitting a claim to an insurance carrier, Donovan said. “Even just typos can add costs to your bill,” she said.

Look at your ‘explanation of benefits’

An “explanation of benefits” can look a lot like a medical bill, but it’s actually a statement that explains what your insurance will be covering and how much you’ll be expected to pay. The amount listed on the EOB should be the same as the one listed on the bill — if it’s not, there’s been a mistake, Donovan said.

Know the law

Under the CARES Act, hospitals that receive federal relief funding are supposed to sign an agreement pledging not to charge patients surprise bills for coronavirus treatment. It’s worth calling and pointing this out to a hospital billing office if you get a surprise bill, Pollitz said.

Make the case that an out-of-network bill should be counted as in-network

If you get a surprise bill that’s out-of-network, call your insurance company and ask for it to be counted as an in-network procedure, Donovan recommended. “I think you have a very strong argument to appeal to your insurer that it should be counted as in-network,” Donovan said. “There are so many extenuating circumstances going on right now.” If a phone call doesn’t work, you can appeal in writing. The Patient Advocate Foundation has an online guide to the process with sample appeal letters.

Consider paying off the bill over time

If your final bill is too big for your budget, sit down and evaluate your finances and see how much you can afford to pay up front. Many hospitals offer financial aid programs that let patients pay off bills gradually. “No hospital expects you to have thousands of dollars on hand — very few people do,” Donovan said. “Letting them know you intend to pay the bill and entering a payment plan might be the least stressful way to handle that situation.”

Call and ask for a break

“Given that there seem to be a lot of providers and insurers who are making the extra effort to be helpful now, if you get an out-of-network bill, it’s worth it to call the billing office,” Pollitz said. “It’s worthwhile trying to ask if they could reconsider, because times are tough now for everybody.”

Retirement Weekly: Five common financial mistakes women make during divorce

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At a time in one’s life that should be their “golden years,” women over 65 are 80% more likely than men to live at or below the poverty line (9% as compared to 5%). One reason for this: divorce.

A woman can expect an almost 30% decline in her standard of living following divorce, while men often see an increase of 10%. Take for example, a woman we’ll call Catherine, whose 20-year marriage recently ended. Catherine received half of a seven-figure estate, which included the family home. While this may sound advantageous from…

Retirement Weekly: Making sense of the turmoil in the muni market

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Is it safe for retirees to tiptoe back into the muni bond market?

I ask because that normally staid and sleepy market endured nothing short of an earthquake in March. In the space of just nine trading sessions, for example, the iShares National Muni Bond  plunged 13.7%, in one fell swoop wiping out years of any benefit that munis otherwise have over other bonds. High-yield munis performed far worse: The Van-Eck Vectors High Yield Municipal Index ETF  36% from late February through mid-March.


CityWatch: Pandemics affect everyone: What’s this one doing to the kids?

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Call them the Pandemic Generation.

And why not? With Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z already taken, we need a whole new generational alphabet.

Like it or not, today’s kids will forever be changed by this New (Pandemic) Normal, just like grandma and grandpa carried the economic anxieties of the Great Depression through the rest of their lives. Even when they got money, the old frugality never loosened its grip.

“On the good side,” Dr. Irwin Redlener was saying at the end of another socially distanced week, “this pandemic generation of children will grow up a lot more adaptable to making changes in their lives and also more resilient. Children learn from these experiences. But they are also coming into a world with a whole new set of anxieties and unknowns.”

Redlener is one of America’s best-known pediatricians and public-health advocates. He’s gone from treating sick children to healing an unwell society. With his wife, Karen, and singer Paul Simon, he founded the Children’s Health Fund in 1987, sending mobile medical units into inner-city neighborhoods and hardscrabble hamlets. Since 2003, he has run Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, responding to Hurricane Katrina, superstorm Sandy and assorted cruelties at the border with Mexico. Lately, it’s been all COVID, all the time, including frequent national checkups on MSNBC. In times of high anxiety, Americans still crave the voice of a straight-talking pediatrician.

Dr. Irwin Redlener in 2015.

Getty Images

“We will see a lot more telecommuting and a lot more remote learning,” Redlener said. “There will be hand sanitizers everywhere, including hand-washing stations. The world will be much more focused on hygiene. These children will grow up with a very different focus on the prevention of infectious disease.”

So will all this plant new fears in the children or spark creative minds?

“We have to figure out how to parent during a pandemic,” Redlener said. “What are the educational trajectories when the schools are closed? What does it mean to have multigenerational families locked in a house together? What about friends? People are trying to figure all of it out now. With all the extra time, families are setting entirely new routines.”

This much is certain already, even as the first COVID wave is still crashing in: “These new rules could well be here for a year or more. They could return intermittently.” And like the TSA lines installed at the airport after 9/11, “some of these changes will be with us forever.”

The best hope, if we’re lucky and focused and the virus cooperates, is that these new challenges can help to solve old problems, Redlener said. “The climate crisis, sustainable biodiversity,” he said, ticking them off. “Looking at things more globally. Learning to act collaboratively. I am expecting big changes in the health-care system.”

Their Stories: Dr. James T. Goodrich mastered complex procedures to separate conjoined twins

Sixty million Americans already live in communities with too few doctors. For too many families without insurance, emergency rooms take the place of primary-care docs. “Shouldn’t emergency departments be gateways for sick people who may need to be hospitalized?” Redlener asked. “Can’t we find some other way to provide primary care? We have a chance to look at all of that.” Crises can force action.

As everyone looks for ways to end the current lockdowns, people young and old face issues large and small. And businesses are trying to adapt to the new realities. “You can’t just walk into a place of business now,” Redlener said. “You have to follow new rules, even in the retail stores that might be opening. They will limit the number of people who come in. Maintaining social distancing even out on the sidewalk. A lot of this will become the norm going forward.”

He’s wrestling with these questions in his own life and family, Redlener said.

“I’m not sure I’m ready to get my hair cut when I don’t know if the barber is positive or negative,” the doctor said. “Are you comfortable taking your family to a restaurant when you don’t know if the kitchen staff and the servers have been tested? Until we have very rapid point-of-care testing that is accurate, all these things are going to be very risky. We really can’t tell people it’s safe to go back to work.”

Related: New York’s post-pandemic future is coming into view

In the meantime, everyone’s just waiting around for the scientists. “They are developing medications to treat very sick people,” Redlener said. “Hopefully, that will control the fatality rate and keep more people from having to go to the hospital. Otherwise, we are waiting for the vaccine. Plenty of people will still be inside 18 months from now. We’ll be in limbo for a very long time, and everyone will have to adapt.”

He’s an optimist, Redlener said. Pediatricians almost have to be. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, “but it’s a very long tunnel, I’m afraid.”

Ellis Henican is an author based in New York City and a former newspaper columnist.

Top Ten: Weekend reads: Find out why you haven’t received your coronavirus money from Uncle Sam

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The Internal Revenue Services has been able to act quickly to send economic relief checks to millions of people under the CARES Act since mid-April. If you haven’t yet received your payment, here are six possible reasons why, from Andrew Keshner.

More about waiting:Claim Social Security benefits and still haven’t gotten your stimulus check? You’re not alone

Amazon’s big news AMZN, -7.75% CEO Jeff Bezos told the online retailer’s shareholders to “take a seat” because of extraordinary efforts taking place in the second quarter.

Make good use of the time at home

You can declutter not only your closet but your life, as you find ways to reduce stress.

Progress in the fight against coronavirus

Scientists have been testing 47 older medications and finding some effective against COVID-19.

As states look to reopen, here are some safety reminders

Many states are starting to lift restrictions on business and social activities. Quentin Fottrell has a set of safety warnings and remedies as people start to move about in public places.

More on the re-opening:

•  How some Georgia businesses are reopening, one temperature check at a time

• Nursing home residents and staff could be in great danger if states open too soon

‘Breaking the business model’ for movie theaters

AMC Entertainment Holding AMC, -10.77% runs the world’s largest movie theater chain and is obviously in big trouble as it waits to begin reopening theaters in the U.S.

But CEO Adam Aron has opened up a big battle, refusing to allow the chain to show any movies made by Universal Pictures, after NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said his company (a unit of Comcast CMCSA, -1.66% ) now plans to release new movies simultaneously in theaters and via on-demand home streaming, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Mike Murphy shares all the details here.


• Here’s what’s worth streaming in May 2020: ‘Space Force,’ ‘Homecoming,’ ‘Ramy’ and more

• Comcast stock falls after earnings give early glimpse of troubles ahead for parks, video

Stock picks that worked well before and during the coronavirus crisis

Here are two completely different but successful strategies:

• A strategy of buying ‘the fastest-growing businesses in America’ has paid off for this investor in 2020

• Seven stock picks from a five-star money manager’s ‘disruptive’ portfolio

Oil market remedies

Following the recent collapse of oil prices, Myra Saefong outlines steps the U.S. can take to help stabilize the market, along with American producers and refiners.

More about oil:

• Russia is the world’s biggest loser from oil’s crash, and that’s reason to worry

• Here’s a tiny glimmer of hope for oil prices as real-time traffic data shows a preliminary pickup

Record low mortgage loan rates

Interest rates for 30-year and 15-year mortgage loans are at their lowest levels ever, but many borrowers won’t be eligible for them — not only because of low credit scores.

Want more from MarketWatch? Sign up for this and other newsletters, and get the latest news, personal finance and investing advice.

Why gardening during a pandemic is so comforting — ‘There are certain very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky’

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My friend passed along some vegetable seeds and my first burst of excitement has turned into dread.

With the struggle to slow COVID-19 leaving most households quarantined and food-obsessed (sourdough-starter sharing the least of it), I have these suddenly hot items in my hands. But now what do I do with them?

I have a lilac bush that’s still pathetic five years after planting. It’s a couple feet from the site of a sapling I pulled up, frustrated it never took root — so how am I going to transform my kale, pea, tomato and cucumber seeds into bumper crops?

I’ll wager other people have questions too, even if they don’t have a lackluster planting career and self-doubt like me.

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day this year coincided with the coronavirus outbreak and, relatedly, rising consumer demand for fruit and vegetable seeds. Big-box retailers such as Lowe’s LWE, +1.82% have seen it and so have smaller seed companies.

‘Spring, of course, is a seed company’s busiest time of year, true; but this year has been unique because of COVID-19.’

— Linda Look, owner of The Seed Guy

Linda Look, owner of Arkansas-based seed seller The Seed Guy, said she can barely keep up with sales demands. “Spring, of course, is a seed company’s busiest time of year, true; but this year has been unique because of COVID-19,” she said.

Longtime gardeners have noticed more novices this year picking their brains on tips and troubleshooting.

For example, in Solon, Iowa, Paul Deaton, a gardener of three decades, has heard from people who want to know how to protect their plants from rabbits and deer, or how to plant and raise new crops.

In McComb, Miss., Gay Austin, president of National Garden Clubs, an organization comprised of 5,000 clubs across the country, has heard it too. One woman asked Austin how to cultivate the herb garden at the house she just purchased.

That gets me back to my seed-driven dread. Why should I bother when another planting failure now would be an extra point of aggravation during a frightening time?

For me at least, I think of the trimmed-down grocery shopping lists I could have if I didn’t need to buy as many fruits and vegetables. Instead of staring at a screen, it’s also a way I could distract myself during long weekend hours that are suddenly wide open.

‘It’s a wonderful time to be a home gardener, because you’re home.’

— Gay Austin, National Garden Clubs president

“It’s a wonderful time to be a home gardener, because you’re home,” Austin noted.

I’m immediately aware others may regard gardening as much more than a hobby.

Right now, 22 million people are suddenly out of work and some economists estimate it may take a long time before the economy recovers.

There’s anxiety over the food supply chain, according to Look.

From her Bella Vista, Ark., offices, Look hears from customers all over the country who see empty grocery shelves or long food bank lines and are concerned. “The world as they’ve always known it no longer exists.”

Gardening makes these customers more self-reliant and lets them “gain more control over their food source,” Look said.

‘Plants are non-judgmental’

Seeds offer their grower a simple deal: plant and tend to me correctly, and I’ll grow for you. Usually, less is more.

It’s a bargain that rookies can uphold too, according to Rutgers University professor Joel Flagler.

“Let’s remember plants are non-judgmental. Plants are ready to respond to anybody, starting today,” said Flagler, who’s also the school’s agricultural extension agent for Bergen County, a suburban county near me. As an agricultural extension agent, Flagler helps homeowners, garden stores, farmers, nurseries, landscapers and others with their garden and agricultural efforts.

Start easy, he explained.

Rather than creating a whole garden, rookie gardeners can begin by putting seeds in pretty much any container, so long as it has drainage at the bottom. If you want to grow a larger plant, like a tomato, or put a couple of plants or flowers together, Flagler said it would be good to start with a bigger container. (That could be something with that’s between one and three feet in diameter, he said. And, again, don’t forget the drainage at the bottom.) Add sun, water and a “positive attitude” and you’re on your way.

I’m going to add a healthy dose of internet research to my planting efforts. So much for my minimal screen time.

This financial reporter hopes that among the “green shoots” to emerge after the worst of the pandemic are those that poke through in my backyard.

I have tomato, cucumber, kale and pea seeds. But tomato and cucumber are plants for the hotter months, which, Flagler said, can be planted in late May and picked in late July. Kale and peas are “cool season” plants, he noted.

Kale’s outer leaves can bloom and be ready for eating in a few weeks, he said. Peas could take closer to 60 days. I figure I’ll start with those.

Flagler teaches horticultural therapy at Rutgers, a discipline using plants and gardening to improve the mental and physical health of people with special needs.

He understands the allure of gardening for everyone at a time like this.

‘There are certain, very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain, terrified really. It’s these predictable outcomes, predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now.’

— Rutgers University professor Joel Flagler

“There are certain, very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain, terrified really. It’s these predictable outcomes, predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now,” he said.

I understand how any activity giving a sense of control can seem especially attractive right now.

I felt that way when I recently explained to my 9-year-old what it means to “buy the dip” as many of us watched the pandemic wipe stock returns SPX, -2.15% DJIA, -1.86% clean.

Actually, gardening isn’t some power trip, Flagler noted. “It’s that positive control, a feeling of ‘Hey, I did this, I did something good here.’”

That also seems like a good way to feel right now, even if only for moment.

So this past weekend, I bought potting soil and small, cardboard mini-pots to start planting.

I discarded my dread, dropped the kale and pea seeds in the pots, poured water and hoped for a second chance.

The Moneyist: Can you alter your 2019 taxes in order to qualify for the $1,200 stimulus check?

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Dear Moneyist,

I have three children in college, aged 20, 23 and 25. I support them as best I can. In 2018, claiming my oldest as a dependent made no difference in what either of us paid in taxes, so I did not claim her as a dependent. She filed as an independent. In 2019, tax-law changes once again made it advantageous for me to claim my oldest as a dependent.

I now regret doing that and, unfortunately, I have already filed. It appears that I do not get the $500 child-dependent stimulus for any of my three dependent children, but had I waited until after the stimulus checks had been issued to file my 2019 taxes and my daughter’s taxes, my oldest would have received the $1,200 stimulus check because she filed as an independent in 2018.

Is there anything I can do to remedy this situation?

Concerned Taxpayer

Dispatches from a pandemic:Letter from New York: ‘When I hear an ambulance, I wonder if there’s a coronavirus patient inside. Are there more 911 calls, or do I notice every distant siren? I love my adopted city, and I’m not going anywhere. I will ride this out’

Dear Concerned,

I understand your frustration. The stimulus checks can’t come soon enough for the 30 million people who are out of work, and others worried about bills and rent due to the coronavirus pandemic. The good news for those who are receiving them: The government has already processed 80 million stimulus checks and they should arrive this week.

If you want to make changes to your previous tax return, you will have to file a 1040X form, enter the new — that is, correct — information and also explain your reasons for changing the filing. It seems unlikely that your check will arrive in this first round, given the backlog of work tax authorities are facing due to the pandemic and stimulus bill.

”You should not attempt to correct the situation by filing another original return using Form 1040,” Bill Bischoff, MarketWatch’s Tax Guy says. “That will just confuse the IRS and cause headaches for you. Instead, be sure to file a Form 1040X, even if you’re amending a 2018 return that you filed on Oct. 15, 2019 (the deadline for filing if you got an extension), which may seem like yesterday.”

The Moneyist: ‘Coronavirus has ruined everything.’ My husband refuses to work. Is it too much to ask him to find a job when millions of people are now out of work? I’ve suggested jobs with car services and food-delivery services, but to no avail

The Internal Revenue Service has clear rules about who qualifies as a dependent: “To claim your child as your dependent, your child must meet either the qualifying child test or the qualifying relative test,” it says. “Your child must be younger than you and either younger than 19 years old or be a ‘student’ younger than 24 years old as of the end of the calendar year Dec 21, 2019.”

“If it turns out you actually qualify for a larger stimulus check then you received, you will get a credit on your 2020 tax return,” says Larry Pon, a CPA in Redwood City, Calif. “If you got too much, the Treasury will not ask for it back. In my 34 years as a tax profession, I’ve never seen this.” It’s worth a shot. If you or your daughter are above the threshold, however, you’re likely out of luck.

Those who have not filed 2019 returns need not worry either. “This legislation moved incredibly fast and the Treasury wanted to get money to the American public as quickly as possible,” Pon adds. “This means we had no opportunity for tax planning or to figure out strategies to maximize the stimulus checks. The Treasury will look to the 2018 tax data if there was no 2019 tax data.”

The Moneyist: ‘All they care about is making money.’ Can my supermarket manager force me to remove my face mask at work?

The Internal Revenue Service is sending $1,200 to individuals with annual adjusted gross income below $75,000 and $2,400 to married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000, plus $500 per qualifying child. It’s also frustrating for people who are just above those thresholds and will receive less or no money from the $2 trillion CARES Act.

There’s also growing concern among many Americans — especially those who are most in need of the checks and already have bills piling up — that debt collectors will garnish or swipe their checks before they can put the money toward rent, or utility and food bills. Millions of Americans have court judgments against them. But there are ways to avoid the checks being garnished.

In the meantime, consider all of your tax options. Pon recommends that you and/or your children consider IRS education credits. The American Opportunity Tax Credit or AOTC can be as high as $2,500 for each child in college — up to $1,500 for the nonrefundable credit and up to $1,000 for the refundable credit — and could actually be worth more than the stimulus payments, he says.

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

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

Do you have questions about how the coronavirus is impacting your life and finances? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used). By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -0.28% group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.