Many Americans are getting ready to receive checks as part of the government’s $2 trillion stimulus package, but some are unsure if they qualify — or how much they’ll receive — if they have unique circumstances, such as claiming Social Security disability benefits or earning much less income this year than last year.
The president signed Congress’ stimulus package into law in response to the financial crisis looming as a result of the spreading coronavirus. The United States is currently the hardest hit country from the disease, with more than 144,000 confirmed cases and 2,500 deaths. Approximately 4,800 people have recovered so far.
State and local officials have enacted lockdowns across the country, which have required nonessential workers — including many of those in retail and entertainment — to stay home. Restaurants across the U.S. have been told to restrict their customers to only take-out or delivery, and other establishments are limiting the number of customers they will allow into their stores at a time. A record 3.28 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week and major stock indexes have been a roller coaster of volatility the last month, ending the nearly 11-year bull market SPX, +2.17%.
One provision of the stimulus package includes sending out checks of up to $1,200 per individual to qualifying Americans, in an attempt to ease the financial burdens they may face because of this crisis. Taxpayers earning $75,000 or less will receive the full $1,200, and the check amount will decrease $5 for every $100 between that threshold and $99,000. Taxpayers who are married filing jointly will receive $2,400 if they earn $150,000 or less, and those checks will be phased out up to the maximum of $198,000. Heads of household will qualify if they earn $112,500 or less, up until the cap at $146,500. Americans will receive $500 for every child under age 17.
Recipients of Supplemental Security Income are also eligible for the checks.
Taxpayers must be a U.S. citizen, have a Social Security number and cannot be claimed as dependents by someone else. Their check amounts will depend on 2019 tax returns, or 2018 if last year’s return has not yet been filed. (The deadline to file 2019 returns has been pushed to July 15, 2020). The government will use information from Social Security benefit statements if an individual has not filed a tax return in the last few years. The rebate checks are nontaxable.
Here are some of the questions MarketWatch readers asked, and the answers available so far:
Question: I receive Social Security but live abroad. Will I get a check?
Answer: Presumably, yes, retirees who live abroad but collect Social Security will receive a check, said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. A majority of Social Security beneficiaries living overseas get their benefits electronically with direct deposit, so they should receive the stimulus money in the same way.
Question: I receive Workers’ Compensation. Will I get a check?
Answer: There are no requirements about the source of income, so someone receiving Workers’ Compensation will still be eligible for rebate checks so long as they are U.S. citizens, have a Social Security number and earn less than the income limits, said Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group.
Question: I receive Social Security disability benefits. Will I get a check?
Answer: Yes. Any taxpayers are eligible, regardless what type of benefit they receive from the Social Security Administration, so long as they meet the income requirements.
Question: I collect back pay from Social Security disability benefits, which pushes my adjusted gross income above the threshold. How will the government calculate that figure?
Answer: As it stands, the bill’s language dictates only taxpayers who meet the income limits will qualify for a check, no matter the reason why their adjusted gross income is above the threshold.
Question: I earned much more in 2018 or 2019 than I do in 2020, in which I would qualify for some or all of the full check amount. How can I get the amount I’m owed for my situation right now?
Answer: The package provides no guidance as to how the Treasury Department will sort through these scenarios yet. According to the bill’s language, only taxpayers who meet the income requirements will qualify for a check. It is possible the government will set up a special request program as the year goes on, Hopkins said. Some taxpayers may have to wait to clear up this issue next year when they file a tax return in 2020, in which case they would receive a credit for the rebate check, he added.
Question: Do disabled adults get any check if another taxpayer claims them as a dependent?
Answer: No, individuals must not be claimed as dependents by another taxpayer to be eligible. Individuals will receive $500 for each child under 17 who they claim.
Question: I haven’t filed my taxes in the last couple of years and I don’t claim Social Security. How will the government know I exist if I qualify for a check?
Answer: There’s no clear answer as to how the government will find individuals who have not filed taxes or do not claim Social Security yet, experts said.
Some Americans may want to file a return for 2019 to assist the government in finding them, though there is also no set deadline for when it would need to receive the return to process the check. All checks are expected to be sent, either as a direct deposit or in the mail, within three weeks.
The IRS created a page on its site dedicated to updates on rebate checks, which you can find here. “Finding people who don’t pay taxes will be a challenge but they are still entitled to the rebate if they meet the other requirements,” Hopkins said.
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