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Understanding the Economic Stimulus Payments

In March of this year, lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides a number of economic relief provisions for workers to help boost financial security during the coronavirus pandemic, including a one-time payment that many people will be eligible for.

Many individuals still have many questions about the CARES Act relief checks, including who is eligible for them, how to get them, and what to do with them once they arrive.

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FAQ on the Economic Impact Payments

Last Updated: April 22, 2020

What are the economic impact payments?

In March 2020, lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides a number of economic relief provisions for workers to help boost financial security during the coronavirus pandemic, including a one-time payment that many people will be eligible for.

How much can you get from the payments?

The payments will be $1,200 per qualifying adult ($2,400 for married taxpayers who are filing a joint return) and $500 per child under 17 years old. Only children under the age of 17 are eligible for the $500 child payment. The child must be related to you through blood, marriage, or adoption. There is no limit on the number of children eligible for the economic impact payment. The Washington Post has a calculator to 

Can young adults receive the $1,200 payment?

You cannot receive the $1,200 payment if you can be claimed as someone else’s dependent. Whether or not you can be claimed as a dependent is based on your age, your relationship to the filer, whether you lived with your parents for more than half of the year, and whether you were financially independent for more than half of the year. This will affect many full-time college students who are under 24 years old, since they can be claimed as dependents by their parents depending on these factors. You can find more details about whether or not a child qualifies as a dependent here.

However, even if you shouldn’t be claimed as a dependent due to your circumstances, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you weren’t claimed as one. If you are in contact with your family, check in with them to make sure they did not claim you as a dependent. 

Who is eligible for the payments?

The full payment of $1,200 is available to anyone making $0 – $74,999. If you are a head of household, you can make up to $112,500 and if you are married and filing jointly you can make up to $150,000 and receive the full payment. The payment will phase out once your income exceeds these limits. You must have a Social Security Number and not be claimed as someone else’s dependent to receive the payment. Those who are single and making more than $75,000 would receive less than $1,200 and those making more than 99,000 are ineligible for the payments. 

Is there an income minimum or limit? 

If you earn $0 you can still receive a payment. However,  you cannot be claimed by someone else, must have a Social Security Number, and have filed a simple tax return. The payments phase out at higher income levels, starting at $75,000 for single filers ($112,500 for those who are heads of households and $150,000 for those who are married and filing a joint return.) The payment is reduced by $5 for every $100 the filer makes over these income limits. 

What if I don’t have a Social Security Number?

Unfortunately, you must have a Social Security Number to receive the payment. The whole household will be disqualified from the payment if one spouse has an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), with the exception of military spouses and adoption tax identification numbers. 

You can learn more about immigrant eligibility for the rebate payments from this National Immigration Law Center (NILC) policy brief.

What if I receive Social Security payments?

Good news! Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance recipients will receive the economic impact payments automatically. This means that you will not need to file any additional forms or do anything to receive the payment. The IRS will use the information they already have on file and get the payment to you. BUT if you have any dependent children eligible for the $500 payment, you will need to fill out the IRS non-filer form by Wednesday, April 22nd at noon EST to claim those children. 

What if I receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Good news! SSI recipients will receive the rebate payments automatically like Social Security, SSDI and veteran benefit recipients will. This means Social Security, SSI and SSDI recipients do not need to do anything to get their payment – they will get it the same way they get their usual monthly payments. BUT if they have any dependent children eligible for the $500 payment, they will need to fill out the IRS non-filer form ASAP to claim those children. The IRS has not announced a deadline yet, but we will update the FAQ as they do.

How will the government know how much I get?

For most people, the payments will be based on your 2019 tax return (the tax return you likely filed in the past few months.) If you have not filed your 2019 tax return yet, it will be based on your tax return from 2018. The IRS extended the tax filing deadline this year to July 15, 2020, so you have more time to file. 

If you receive Social Security, SSDI, SSI or veteran benefits, the IRS will use the information they already have on file to figure out how much you are eligible for. You may need to file an additional form to receive payment for any dependent kids. Social Security recipients need to fill out the IRS non-filer form by Wednesday, April 22nd at noon EST to claim those children. 

If you qualify for a higher payment based on your family size or income in 2020, you may be able to get that additional money when you file your 2020 tax return next year. For example, if you have a baby this year, you could get the additional $500 payment for that child when you file your taxes in 2021. However, you won’t owe the IRS any money if you qualify for less of a payment based on your 2020 income or family situation.

What if I have not paid taxes in 2018 or 2019?

The IRS has provided an online form for you to fill out for the purpose of receiving the economic impact rebate payment if you do not have taxable income and you don’t need to file taxes for 2018 or 2019. Social Security, SSI, SSDI and veteran benefit recipients do not need to fill out this form to get their payment, but they can use the form to identify any children they have that are eligible for the $500 payment. This form will ask you to provide the necessary information to receive the payment. Individuals who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) should use the Free File site instead of the form so you can receive all of the money that you are eligible for. 

Free File Site

If your gross income exceeded $12,200 in 2019 ($24,400 for a married couple), then you should file a federal tax return on the Free File site rather than use the non-filer online form. You should file your taxes online and avoid filing your return by paper, if possible.

You can receive the economic impact payment through December 31, 2020. If you do not file before the end of the year, you can receive the payment when you file your taxes in 2021.

Where can I get help filing my tax form? 

Normally, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites are a useful resource for helping people with low incomes file their taxes for free. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many VITA sites are currently closed or are using alternative methods other than face-to-face to help tax filers.

  • The IRS VITA Locator will help you find VITA locations in your community that are still preparing returns.
  • Get Your Refund is a free online tax filing site with volunteers providing assistance remotely, run in partnership with VITA.
  • The IRS also has a Free File online resource that can help people file online.

You should NEVER have to pay to receive online help filing your taxes. There are free resources out there!

Do I qualify for the rebate payment as a street-based sex worker?

Yes, as long as you meet the general eligibility requirements. If you have not filed your taxes in 2018 or 2019, you will have to file your 2019 taxes or complete the online form for those who don’t file taxes, unless you receive Social Security, SSI or veteran benefits. 

Will this payment count towards my eligibility for means-tested benefit programs, like subsidized housing, Medicaid and food assistance? 

No, because the rebate is considered a federal tax refund, it is not counted towards eligibility for federal means-tested programs for twelve months. In addition, the payment will be disregarded as an asset for twelve months. 

Do I have to report the stimulus payment as income to the unemployment office?

No, the rebate is considered a tax refund and is not counted towards eligibility for federal programs.

Will this payment have federal tax taken out of it?

No, because the payments are federal income tax refunds, they are not subject to a federal tax.

Will any of the money be taken out if I owe the government money? 

No, with the exception of overdue child support payments. (In California, an executive order will require any overdue child support payments to be paid to the custodial family rather than the state. Each state can decide whether this money will be garnished for overdue child support payments.) The payment cannot be reduced because you have overdue taxes owed (federal or state), student loans, or Unemployment Insurance overpayments. However, your money may not be protected from private debt collectors, including your bank. According to the Washington Post, the Treasury Department is looking into whether it has the power to keep banks and private debt collectors from taking payments from people. 

Can private debt collectors take my money?

Unfortunately, your money may not be protected from private debt collectors, including your bank. According to the Washington Post, the Treasury Department is looking into whether it has the power to keep banks and private debt collectors from taking payments from people. 

How will I get the money?

The payments will be sent either by direct deposit or by mail with a check. We recommend that you provide a direct deposit bank account if you have it, because this will allow you to receive the payment quickest. The Trump administration has said checks could take as long as until September to receive.

See below options for setting up a banking account online.

How do I give the IRS my direct deposit information?

If you have filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes, the IRS will use the direct deposit information that you entered in your tax form. If you receive Social Security payments, or SSDI, SSI or veteran benefit payments, the IRS will use the information they already have on file. If you need to add a direct deposit account, or if you have not filed your 2018 and 2019 tax returns, you can provide that information through the Get My Payment online portal. (NOTE: Unfortunately, this portal is currently not compatible with mobile phones.)

If the bank account you previously used to receive your 2018 or 2019 tax refunds is now closed, the bank will reject the direct deposit and the rebate payment will be mailed to you as a check to the address the IRS has on file from your tax returns. If you already provided direct deposit information to the IRS through your tax returns, you cannot change that information unless it was inaccurate and resulted in a refund check. 

What if I do not receive the payment? 

The CARES Act requires that all individuals who are eligible to receive the economic impact rebate payment be sent a notice that provides them with information on the amount of the payment that they are eligible to receive, how that payment will be delivered (whether by direct deposit or by check) and an IRS phone number to call if the payment is not received. You can also check the status of your rebate payment at the Get My Payment online portal. (NOTE: Unfortunately, this portal is not currently compatible with mobile phones.)

What if I do not have a permanent address? 

We encourage you to either find an address that you can temporarily use to receive the economic impact payment or to establish a bank account that you can use to receive a direct deposit payment. Keep in mind that many direct service nonprofits are indefinitely closed due to the coronavirus, so it may be challenging to list them as your address. Remember: being homeless does not make you ineligible for the payment – you are still eligible regardless of where you live.

What if I filed my taxes last year under my previous name, and have changed my name since I filed those taxes?

If you file your taxes and have not filed your 2019 taxes, you should file as soon as possible with your new name. Make sure your name is updated with the Social Security Administration

If your check is written out to you under your previous legal name, you should still be able to deposit your check. However, you may need to speak with your bank and show your legal paperwork documenting your court ordered name change and old and new ID. It helps to remind tellers that this is the same process for people who change their name after marriage and may have a different name printed on their checks. 

When will I receive my money?

The Treasury Department has already started to deposit payments into people’s bank accounts, but when you see the payment in your bank account will depend on your bank account processing time. For many people the payments may take longer to receive. The IRS has said they will prioritize people with the lowest incomes to receive their payments first. Those who are receiving the payments via direct deposit will likely receive them quicker than those receiving the payments by mail. The Trump administration has said checks could take as long as until September to receive. You can check the status of your payment at the Get My Payment online portal. (NOTE: Unfortunately, this portal is not currently compatible with mobile phones.)

Will there be another payment in future months? 

For right now, these payments are only one-time payments. Depending on how the economy continues to evolve during the coronavirus pandemic, Congress may or may not pass additional economic impact payments in the future. But for the time being, each person will only receive one payment.

How can I protect myself from scammers? 

Multiple federal agencies have already released warnings of the risk of scammers related to the rebate payments. Generally, if someone is asking you for money, your banking information, or for your personal taxpayer information, that is a red flag for a scam. Scams can come in text message, email, by phone, in websites or through social media. 

Remember: the official term for these payments is “economic impact payment.” A scammer is likely to emphasize phrases like “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment,” and these are incorrect. The IRS will not call you to ask you to verify or provide your financial information in order to receive your economic impact payment quicker. 

This IRS website provides tips on how to avoid scams, and you can also report any scams that you have received at this website. Some tips from the IRS include:

  • The IRS will generally first contact people by mail – not by phone – about tax related matters.
  • If the IRS does contact you by telephone, they will not insist on any pre-payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order, or wire transfer, in order to receive economic impact payments.
  • The IRS will also never request personal or financial information by email, text, letters, or any social media.

What should I do with the money?

Because this is a payment directly to you, you can use the funds that you receive in whatever manner you choose. The money is yours to use for whatever you need to use it for. Since each person’s financial situation and needs are different, there is no one-size-fits recommendation for what you should do with your money once it arrives.

If you are still earning a full income, and you are able to fully afford your expenses using that income alone, the payment may be surplus to your needs. If so, you may want to consider:

  • donating your stimulus check to a COVID-19 relief effort to provide assistance to others less fortunate. 
  • saving that money for later, in case your financial situation changes. If you do not have any emergency savings (or enough emergency savings to cover 2-3 months of expenses) you may want to start one now, just in case.
  • If you have a financial advisor, you may want to consult with them around how best to save, invest, or donate your CARES Act benefits so you can make the maximum personal or community financial impact with your payment.

But knowing what to use your stimulus payment for can be more difficult if you are not earning a full-time income at present, and also if you have experienced or anticipate difficulty affording all of your rent, utilities, necessities, and credit obligations out of your income.

Using your CARES Act Payment for maximum impact:

  • Make a monthly spending plan: Includes all of your income and expenses (including your CARES Act payment)–so you know how much money you have, and what expenses you need money for. There are many ways you can create your spending plan: You can find many worksheets and templates online to make a spending plan, you can use an online budgeting tool (such as Mint, YNAB, or your financial institution’s budgeting tool), or you can even make your own excel spreadsheet. Add up your total expenses and subtract them from your income total. If your total income is less than your current total expenses, this means that you cannot afford all of your expenses out of the current amount of income. In order to afford your monthly total expenses that exceed current income, you may have to rely on savings or credit to afford those expenses–if those sources are available. But, if you do not have savings or credit available to cover those costs, you may not be able to afford those expenses in the future, and may have to make changes in your income or spending in order to make all of your expenses affordable.
  • Prioritize your Current Payments: Write down the total amount of your income at the top of a page. Then, start listing your expenses, from most important to least important, and write the cost for each next to the related expense. Subtract the cost of each expense from your total income. When you reach 0 income, draw a line under that expense. Continue listing your expenses and the cost for each. This exercise will allow you to see what expenses you can afford, and what expenses are unaffordable. In order to afford any expenses below the line, either the total income must increase or the amount of expenses above the line must decrease. Once you know which of your expenses are affordable and which are unaffordable, you may be able to make extra room in your budget by economizing–i.e. reducing costs by eliminating extra spending on non-essentials.  IMPORTANT NOTE: When choosing to prioritize payments, make sure to prioritize those costs that are essential to supporting your well-being, such as:
    • Food, 
    • Medical supplies, 
    • Shelter, and 
    • Utilities. 
    • Your loan repayment and other payments to your collectors or creditors (except your mortgage) are less important than your health and well being.
  • Strategize & Think Ahead: Consider your employment situation. Is it likely to improve or to worsen in the future? Will you be able to afford your current expenses out of your income in the future without the extra income provided by the CARES Act payment?
  • Get Help if You Need It: Financial planning can be stressful at the best of times, and it can be particularly stressful when your financial future is uncertain or difficult. But there are many nonprofits that offer financial and credit counseling that offer FREE one-on-one assistance to individuals to help them create budgets and plans to manage their difficult to manage financial situations or debts. Some groups you might want to look at to find counseling include:
    • The National Reinvestment Coalition – https://ncrc.org/ -Offers a variety of resource for consumers, including housing and budget counseling.
    • The National Foundation of Credit Counselors –  https://www.nfcc.org/ -Offers a variety of services for consumers including, housing, credit, and budget counseling.

I do not need the payment but I am eligible to get it. Where should I donate the money that I receive? 

Consider donating to organizations and mutual aid efforts that support LGBTQ people who are completely or partially left out of government relief efforts (The CARES Act allows individuals to deduct up to $300 for charity donations made in 2019 from their income even if not filing an itemized 2020 tax return). Those groups include:

Can I use someone else’s banking account for my payment?

No. You must use a banking account that is under your name. 

Will I get my payment if I received my tax refund through a refund advance loan? 

You may have an issue getting your payment. If you received your tax refund through a refund advance loan, you should fill out the IRS’s Get My Payment online form, available here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.

If you received your refund advance loan through a debit card, it’s possible the stimulus has already been issued into your debit card account. If you no longer have your card, contact the loan provider to issue you a new one. 

If I had a bank account closed because I overdrafted, can I open another one?

Yes, you can open a new bank account, even if you have had a bank account closed due to an overdraft or deficient balance. However, if the financial institution that closed your account is reporting your deficient balance and account closure on your credit report, this may affect your ability to open a bank account with another financial institution.

What if I do not have a bank account?

There are many ways you can sign up for a bank account. You can set up your account in-person at a bank or credit union branch. You can also open a bank account online online through one of these banking providers:

You can also receive your funds through the Cash App, by providing the IRS with routing and account numbers connected to your Cash App. NOTE: This is only for direct deposit, and currently cannot be used for check payments.

If you have a prepaid debit card, you can use it to receive your money. The card number is your account number and you will need to look up the routing number. You can find the routing number on your bank or prepaid card issuer’s website or in its online banking system. If you cannot find it, contact your bank or prepaid card issuer by calling the customer service hotline. 

After you sign up, make sure to add your account information on the IRS website.

How can I find information on how to apply for food assistance, rental assistance, Section 8 or other government benefits that can help me afford necessities?

The U.S. Government maintains a website of information about how to apply for government benefits online at www.benefits.gov. They have added a specific page providing Coronavirus-specific guidance on their site at www.benefits.gov/help/faq/Coronavirus-resources.

Where can I find information about current moratoriums on evictions?

The National Housing law Project, and students at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania have created the following list of state-by-state list of eviction moratoriums that have been enacted by states: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/e/2PACX-1vTH8dUIbfnt3X52TrY3dEHQCAm60e5nqo0Rn1rNCf15dPGeXxM9QN9UdxUfEjxwvfTKzbCbZxJMdR7X/pubhtml

What about my student loans? Should I pay them?

The CARES Act provides relief for student loan borrowers with Direct Loans and also for FFEL loans, but only those FFEL loans currently owned by the U.S. Department of Education. Perkins Loans and borrowers whose FFEL loans are still held by banks or guaranty agencies are NOT covered by the act. 

Direct Loan and covered FFEL borrowers will have their payments suspended through September 30, 2020. While student loan payments are suspended, the loans shall not accrue any interest and the month of a suspended loan payment will be treated as if a new federal student loan had been made for purposes of loan forgiveness and loan rehabilitation.

If all of your federal loans are public student loans, you may be able to not pay them at this time so you can focus your earnings on your current obligations. This is particularly useful if you need that money that would have been spent on student loans for necessities. But, also, if you can afford to pay your obligations and your student loans at the same time, the current moratorium on interest may mean you can reduce your principal more rapidly by making payments at this time.  

Other LGBTQ-specific resources

Here are some LGBTQ-specific resource lists and documents that have been produced for individuals to use during the COVID-19 Crisis:

For additional questions, corrections, or any other feedback, please submit here. 

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Disclaimer: The materials available on this web site are for general informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal or financial advice to any specific person. Always consider your own financial and legal circumstances and consult with your own financial or legal adviser before relying upon any advice or opinion.

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