14 Lingering Questions About Stimulus Checks, Answered

As part of the coronavirus stimulus package that went into effect last month, each qualifying American will receive a direct payment from the government.

While tens of millions of people have already received their money, the rollout of stimulus payments has been confusing and flawed, to say the least.

Naturally, many questions have come up about the stimulus payment process, and the IRS has been scrambling to address them. To help you navigate the situation and find the information you need, we’ve answered some of the biggest questions people have about stimulus checks right now.

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An initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department as most of the country remained under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

An initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department as most of the country remained under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How do I calculate my payment amount?

The amount of your stimulus check is dependent on your prior income and filing status. Payments are awarded based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2018 or 2019 tax return, whichever is the most recent available to the IRS. Payments phase out as your income increases. You also get extra money for each dependent under the age of 17.

Here’s how to calculate your stimulus check amount based on AGI:

Single filer

If your AGI is $75,000 or less annually, your payment amount is $1,200.

If your AGI is above $75,000, the payment decreases by $5 for every $100 in extra income, and phases out completely for AGIs above $99,000. Here’s how that would look for different incomes:

  • $80,000 AGI: $950 payment
  • $85,000 AGI: $700 payment
  • $90,000 AGI: $450 payment
  • $95,000 AGI: $200 payment
  • $99,000 AGI: $0 payment

Married, filing jointly

If you’re married and file a joint tax return with your spouse, the stimulus payment amounts are doubled. Married couples with an AGI of $150,000 or less annually qualify for a stimulus payment of $2,400. The payment again decreases by $5 for every $100 in income over $150,000, and phases out completely at $198,000. Here’s how that would look for different incomes:

  • $160,000 AGI: $1,900 payment
  • $170,000 AGI: $1,400 payment
  • $180,000 AGI: $900 payment
  • $190,000 AGI: $400 payment
  • $198,000 AGI: $0 payment

Head of household

If you file as “head of household,” which is common for single parents, you’re eligible for a stimulus payment of $1,200 if your AGI is $112,500 or less. That payment phases out at $136,500 annually.

If you qualify for a stimulus payment and also have one or more dependent children under the age of 17, you receive an additional $500 for each dependent. For example, if you’re married with a combined AGI of $185,000 and have two dependent children, your total stimulus check would be for $1,650. You can also use an online calculator to figure out what your payment amount should be.

Why haven’t I received my payment yet?

Even though more than 130 million stimulus payments have already been sent out, the process of paying out funds hasn’t been without issues. Many people are still waiting on their money. If that includes you, there are a few reasons why you haven’t received your payment yet, assuming you do qualify for one.

If you didn’t already have up-to-date bank account information on file with the IRS, you will receive a paper check in the mail instead of a direct deposit. According to the timeline for sending payments, about 5 million checks will be mailed each week for up to 20 weeks, and those who have the smallest incomes on record will receive theirs first. The first round of paper checks went out on April 20, which means it could take until late August for all checks to be sent.

If you had outstanding debt in collections, there’s a chance that your stimulus payment was garnished by a creditor (more on this below).

Some taxpayers who used tax preparation services also ran into issues with having temporary bank account information on file. In these cases, the IRS will mail a check instead of depositing money directly.

Do SSI recipients qualify for a stimulus payment?

Initially, it was unclear whether Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries qualify for stimulus checks. The IRS confirmed that SSI recipients do, in fact, qualify for stimulus money and will receive their funds by early May at the latest, the same way they receive their normal benefits.

Though SSI recipients will receive their stimulus payments automatically, there’s a hiccup for those who didn’t file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and have child dependents. In this case, the IRS required that SSI beneficiaries use its online tool for non-filers to register to receive an additional $500 stimulus payment per qualifying child. If this wasn’t done by May 5, however, you’ll instead need to file a tax return for 2020 next year in order to claim the $500 child stimulus payments.

How do I check the status of my payment?

The IRS has an online tool called Get My Payment that allows you to check the status of your stimulus check.

To look up your payment status, you’ll need to enter a few personal details, including Social Security number or individual tax ID, date of birth, street address and ZIP or postal code to get your payment status. Note that you need to enter your address exactly as it’s listed on your tax return in order for the tool to work.

If you haven’t set up your direct deposit information yet, the tool may walk you through that process, too. To complete this step, you’ll need to know your AGI from your 2018 or 2019 tax return (whichever you filed most recently), as well as the exact refund or amount due that year.

If you didn’t file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 because your gross income fell below the $12,200 minimum ($24,400 for married couples), you still qualify for a payment, but won’t be able to check the status using this tool. And since the tool relies on information from your tax returns to look up your payment status, it doesn’t work for recipients of Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs benefits.

If you fall into one of these categories and need to update your bank information, you can use the IRS tool for non-filers.

What does it mean if my payment status is not available?

Many taxpayers who attempted to check their payment status using the Get My Payment tool were frustrated to receive a “Payment Status Not Available” message. There are many reasons why you might get this result, and the IRS recently put together an explanation:

  • You aren’t eligible for a payment.
  • You’re required to file a tax return and haven’t done so for tax year 2018 or 2019.
  • You recently filed your return or provided information through the non-filers tool, in which case your payment status will be updated when processing is completed.
  • You’re an SSA or RRB Form 1099 recipient, or an SSI or VA benefit recipient (your information isn’t available in this app yet).

Keep in mind that millions of stimulus payments are processed per day, and Get My Payment data is only updated once per day, so you may need to check back in 24 hours for new results.

Where is my stimulus check being mailed?

If you didn’t receive a direct deposit and are instead waiting for a paper check to be mailed, the IRS will send it to the address on your most recent tax return, or as updated through the United States Postal Service. You can then use the USPS online tracking tool to see your check’s status in the mail.

Visit the Postal Service’s Informed Delivery page and select “sign up for free.” If the service is available based on your address, you can then create an account. You’ll need to verify your identity using a code sent to your phone (you can also choose to receive it in the mail).

Once your account is set up, which can take up to three business days, you’ll receive a daily email Monday through Saturday that notifies you of all the mail scheduled to come your way, along with an image of the front of each letter. You can also track mail using the free Android or iPhone Informed Delivery app.

Who doesn’t qualify for a stimulus check?

Not everyone qualifies for a stimulus check. If you are ineligible, it’s likely because you earn too much money. Stimulus payments are capped for AGIs above $99,000 for single filers, $198,000 for married couples filing jointly and $136,500 for heads of household.

You’re also ineligible for a stimulus check if you:

  • Can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes
  • Are a non-resident foreigner
  • Do not have a Social Security number
  • Are currently incarcerated

Some people have also been surprised to learn that they will not receive a stimulus payment if they are married to a noncitizen who doesn’t have a Social Security number and with whom they file taxes jointly, even if they would otherwise qualify.

Can stimulus payments be garnished by creditors?

By law, creditors can take money from your bank account to cover unpaid debt. In some cases, this results in a frozen bank account. Unlike Social Security and disability benefits, the Treasury Department hasn’t exempted stimulus payments from being seized by creditors. And there have, in fact, been reports of stimulus payment recipients having their banks accounts frozen as a result of garnishment.

If you’re concerned about having your stimulus payment garnished, you should request a paper check through the Get My Payment tool. This would allow you to avoid having your payment direct deposited and seized. Alternatively, you can attempt to withdraw your stimulus funds as soon as they’re deposited.

Can stimulus payments be withheld due to delinquent child support payments?

The CARES Act suspended collection of certain overdue debts, such as federal student loans and back taxes, which would otherwise usually lead to garnishment. However, this provision doesn’t apply to delinquent child support payments.

If you currently owe child support, you could have the overdue amount deducted from your stimulus payment. Similarly, if you file a joint tax return with a spouse who owes back child support, your stimulus check could be seized even if your spouse is solely responsible for the debt.

Do I have to pay taxes on my stimulus payment?

The stimulus payment is actually a new, refundable tax credit, which means it will not be counted as income on your 2020 tax return and is not taxable, according to Mark Jaeger, director of tax development for TaxAct.

Even so, the IRS will likely require you to report the stimulus payment somewhere on your 2020 taxes. “Since stimulus payments are currently being calculated against a prior year return, the amount individuals receive will be reconciled against their 2020 information when they file a return,” Jaeger said. In some cases, your credit amount may need to be adjusted based on 2020 tax information, but there’s no situation in which you’d have to pay any part of the credit back.

Will there be a second round of payments?

So far, there is no definitive plan for sending out a second round of stimulus payments. However, many members of Congress have shown their support for additional stimulus payments ― in some cases, ongoing payments ― and the president hasn’t ruled out that possibility.

One bill that’s currently under consideration is the Emergency Money for the People Act, which would provide stimulus payments of $2,000 per month to U.S. citizens and residents over the age of 16 who earn $130,000 or less. After the first six months, the program could be renewed for an additional six months unless the employment-to-population ratio reaches a pre-COVID19 level of 60%. However, this bill hasn’t gained much traction, and it remains to be seen how a second stimulus check program will be enacted, if any.

What should I do if my stimulus check is for the wrong amount?

Once you receive your stimulus payment, the IRS will send a confirmation letter in the mail within 15 days. This letter explains the amount of your payment and how to report any issues with it.

It’s possible that you received your stimulus payment, but the amount is too little. If you had a child this year, for instance, you won’t receive the extra $500 credit for dependents because payment amounts are based on 2018 and 2019 tax returns. The good news is that when you file taxes for 2020, you can claim your new dependent and receive the extra funds, according to the IRS.

Similarly, you may have received too little if your income was higher on your most recent tax return than it will be for 2020. In this case, you will again get the difference next year when you file your taxes.

There may also be instances where you received too much money. For example, one of your dependents could be turning 17 this year, or your income increased for 2020. If that’s the case, the IRS will not require you to pay back the difference.

If you believe you received the wrong stimulus check amount simply due to error, you’ll need to wait on contacting the IRS to resolve the issue. Due to the pandemic, IRS offices are closed and phone calls are not being answered at this time.

What should I do if I receive a stimulus check for a deceased loved one?

If a loved one recently died, you might be surprised to receive their stimulus payment.

There are some situations in which this could happen. For instance, if your stimulus payment was based on your joint tax return for 2018 and your spouse died this year, you would technically qualify for the full payment amount based on 2018 data.

In other cases, payments were sent in error. In a rush to send out payments, the IRS may not have accurately matched date-of-death information with tax returns. Plus, some death records may not have been complete at the time payments were calculated. For this reason, stimulus payments were sent to some deceased individuals and received by survivors.

According to the CARES Act, those who received overlarge payments are entitled to keep them. However, the IRS says that payments made to deceased individuals must be sent back. If you received a larger stimulus check because you filed a joint return with a now-deceased spouse, you have to send back their portion (if you received $2,400, for example, you’d need to send back $1,200). Physical checks should be mailed back to the Treasury Department; if you already cashed or withdrew the funds, you’ll need to mail a personal check. Full instructions are available on the IRS website under Q41.

What should I do if my stimulus payment goes to the wrong bank account?

After checking the IRS Get My Payment tool, you might find that your bank account information is outdated or incorrect. Unfortunately, due to security reasons, the IRS doesn’t allow you to change bank account information it already has on file for you.

If your stimulus payment went to a closed or inactive account, the IRS states that the payment will be rejected and a new check will be mailed to the address it has on file for you.

Some stimulus payment recipients who filed taxes using a tax preparation service have experienced issues with their funds being sent to the preparer and not their final destination bank accounts. Others simply had incorrect information on file.

Because IRS offices are currently closed, you’ll need to contact your tax preparer or the bank that received the deposit to try and resolve the problem.

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