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Your 2020 Stimulus Check: How Much? When? And Other Questions Answered

People have a lot of questions about the economic stimulus checks authorized by the CARES Act. We have answers.

To counter the coronavirus-induced economic meltdown, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a massive economic stimulus plan that is flooding the U.S. economy with cash and providing some relief for Americans who are taking a financial hit. Part of the plan is to send almost everyone direct payments from the government's coffers. But there are a lot of unanswered questions about these "stimulus checks." At the top of the list: How much will we all get? And when will we get it?

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

How Many Stimulus 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 stimulus 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.

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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. Stimulus 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 stimulus 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.

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Again, we have an easy-to-use Stimulus 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 stimulus 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 stimulus payment. To find out which is better, use the Stimulus 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 (you'll need to file before the IRS processes your payment).

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 stimulus check will be $100 more if the IRS bases your payment on your 2018 return. Will you get to keep that additional $100?

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Yes! The way the law is written, the stimulus checks are actually just advanced payments of a new "recovery rebate" tax credit for the 2020 tax year. According to the IRS, you won't be required to repay any stimulus check payment when filing your 2020 tax return—even if your stimulus check is greater than your 2020 credit. (If your stimulus check is less than your 2020 credit, you'll get the difference when you file your 2020 return.)

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. If you receive benefits from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, or Veterans Administration, the IRS will pull get information from those federal agencies to calculate the amount of your stimulus check if they don't have a 2018 or 2019 tax return with your name on it. Other people who typically don't file a tax return can go online and provide the information the IRS needs to cut them a check. The web address is irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here. You can also file a "simplified" tax return, which will allow the IRS to send you a stimulus payment. (For more information, see How to Get a Stimulus Check if You Don't File a Tax Return.)

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 stimulus 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?

The IRS has already started issuing electronic payments through direct deposit. This method of payment takes far less time than printing and mailing a paper check. The IRS will use bank account information from your 2018 or 2019 tax return (used for tax refund payments), or from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, or Veterans Administration, to deposit stimulus payments into your account. If you don't file a tax return or receive federal government benefits, there is a web-based portal that you can use to provide your banking information to the IRS online.

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The IRS also has an online "Get My Payment" tool where you can check your payment status, confirm your payment type (direct deposit or paper check), and enter your bank account information for direct deposit if the IRS doesn't already have that information and they haven't sent your payment yet. (For more information on the "Get My Payment" tool, see Track Your Stimulus Check with the IRS's "Get My Payment" Tool.)

If the IRS doesn't have your bank account information, they will mail you a paper check. However, the first batch of paper checks isn't expected to be mailed until late April. After that, the reported plan is to send out as many as 5 million checks each week, with lower-income people getting paid first. Higher-income taxpayers might not see a relief check until September under the IRS timetable.

For more information on the expected IRS payment schedule, see When Will I Get My Stimulus Check?

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. (So, you might want to file ASAP to avoid this situation.) 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 stimulus check now, you'll still get it later.

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In fact, if your stimulus 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 I Had a Child in 2020?

Unfortunately, if you had a child earlier this year and filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return, you will not get an additional $500 in your stimulus check for him or her. You can, however, get an additional $500 recovery rebate credit for your new baby on your 2020 tax return.

If didn't file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, or you receive benefits from the Social Security Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, or Veterans Administration, you can use the IRS's "Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info Here" tool to claim a new baby and to get an extra $500 added to your stimulus check (as long as you act before the IRS starts processing your payment).

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?

As far as we know, you'll get the extra $500 based on your 2018 return. (We don't think the IRS will just add a year to your child's age and adjust your stimulus check accordingly.) If you do get the additional $500 in your stimulus check, you won't have to pay it back.

What If My Child Turned 17 in 2020?

If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and claimed a child who qualifies for the child tax credit, you should still get the extra $500 in your stimulus check for that child. You will not have to pay back the additional $500 at a later date.

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 stimulus 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.

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

Will "Nonresident Aliens" Get a Check?

Nonresident aliens are not eligible to receive a stimulus 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 stimulus checks, either.)

For more information on stimulus check eligibility, see Who's Not Getting a Stimulus Check.

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

Yes, you must have a Social Security number to receive an economic stimulus 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.

Can the IRS or Other Creditors Take My Check If I Owe Back Taxes, Child Support or Other Debts?

Stimulus money is generally not subject to reduction or offset to pay back taxes or other debts owed to the federal or a state government. However, if you owe child support, the IRS can use stimulus check money to pay arrears.

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The law doesn't exempt stimulus payments from garnishment by other creditors or debt collectors. However, some members of Congress and a several state Attorney Generals are pressuring the IRS to create such an exemption by regulation or by issuing other guidance. We'll follow this additional open question and report any new developments.

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.

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