Congress pushed through a $2 trillion stimulus bill Friday, and some Americans can expect checks from the government to help them cope with the economic devastation stemming from the coronavirus crisis.
Those payments are expected to be $1,200 for individuals, or $2,400 for those who are married and file income taxes jointly. It also includes $500 per child.
But you have to meet certain qualifications in order to be eligible for the money, based on your adjusted gross income in your latest tax returns. If you earn more than $75,000 as an individual, $112,500 as the head of household or $150,000 if you are married and filing jointly, the amount of those checks starts to get reduced.
Checks will be reduced by $5 for every $100 exceeding those thresholds. It completely phases out at $99,000 in income for individuals, $146,500 for head of household filers with one child and $198,000 for joint filers with no children.
However, you are still eligible for a check if you have no income or if you rely solely on non-taxable government benefit programs like Supplemental Security Income benefits, or SSI, from Social Security.
"That group of people who are getting Social Security, whether it's for retirement or for disability, and don't need to file, will still be able to get a stimulus check," said Jack Smalligan, senior policy fellow at the Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank.
That's after new language was added to the bill to allow the Treasury Department to communicate with other agencies that provide federal benefits. So the government would not necessarily need those individuals to file tax returns in order to get the stimulus checks, Smalligan said.
Americans who live in other countries may also be eligible.
"The last time stimulus checks were sent out, U.S. citizens living abroad did receive them," said David McKeegan, co-founder of Greenback Expat Tax Services. "I would assume that this time it would be the same, but we won't know until we see the [IRS] guidance."
One requirement for receiving the payments is you need to have a valid Social Security number.
Some individuals are specifically excluded from receiving relief checks. That includes nonresident aliens, individuals whose deductions can go to another taxpayer, and estates or trusts.
If you didn't yet file a 2019 return, the government will use your 2018 information if it has it. It also may use a 2019 Social Security benefit statement, or Form SSA-1099, or the Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099.
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More important, the money will not be counted as taxable income. It will be considered a credit, so you can deduct the sum against your future taxes.
The legislation calls for sending out the payments "as rapidly as possible." Eligible individuals will receive the funds electronically if they previously authorized refunds to be delivered to them that way. Otherwise, they will be sent out via postal mail.
Congress' coronavirus relief bill would also significantly expand unemployment benefits for Americans who lose their jobs due to the country's recent economic contagion.
Self-employed workers, those seeking part-time work, and workers who quit their job or can't reach their place of work as a result of COVID-19 are among those eligible for benefits.