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Do I Need to File a 2019 Tax Return to Get a Stimulus Check?

IRS says Social Security recipients don't need to submit extra paperwork

1040 income tax form and w-2 wage statement with a federal Treasury refund check.

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En españolEditor's note: The IRS is in the process of developing procedures for the issuance of stimulus payments to Americans, as called for under the CARES Act. These procedures are evolving, and the IRS has not yet worked out all of the details. AARP is monitoring the IRS closely and will provide the latest information on stimulus payments as soon as it becomes available.

The IRS announced March 30 that it will start sending out stimulus payments in the next three weeks. For most Americans, the IRS says the payments, called for under the CARES Act, will go out automatically based on information contained in 2019 federal tax returns. For taxpayers who have yet to file 2019 returns -— the deadline has been extended to July 15 — the IRS says it will look at 2018 returns. 

The payment will be made directly to the bank account indicated on the 2019 (or 2018) tax return. 

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What if I didn't file a tax return in 2018 or 2019?

The IRS announced on April 1 that Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who didn’t file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 would not need to submit additional paperwork such as a “simple” tax return in order to receive a stimulus payment. Instead, the IRS says it will use the information in benefit statements for Social Security recipients and railroad retirees, known as Form SSA-1099 and Form RRB-1099, respectively, to generate $1,200 stimulus payments for those who didn’t file tax returns for 2018 or 2019. The IRS will also use information from SSA-1099 tax forms to send stimulus payments automatically to recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Payments will be issued as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as the beneficiary would normally receive their benefits. The vast majority of beneficiaries receive benefits by direct deposit.

Lower-income Americans who haven’t filed a 2018 or a 2019 return because they are under the normal income limits for filing a tax return should use the IRS’s new web tool. (This group includes single filers who made under $12,200 and married couples making less than $24,400 in 2019.) Using the tool won’t result in owing more taxes, the IRS says. When you enter basic information, including your Social Security number, name, address, and dependents, the IRS will use this information to confirm eligibility and calculate and send an Economic Impact Payment. You can enter bank or financial information to get your check deposited directly into your account — a much faster option than getting a paper check in the mail.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will get their checks sent automatically, as will Social Security, SSDI and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries as well as those who receive Compensation and Pension benefit payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Those who have qualifying children under age 17 may use the new tool to claim the $500 payment per child.

Who qualifies for a stimulus payment?

AARP worked hard to ensure the vast majority of Americans, whether working, unable to work, unemployed or retired, were able to receive financial relief in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. We especially appreciate that the CARES Act legislation authorizes the maximum payment for those whose primary income is Social Security.

The base amount of the stimulus payment is $1,200 per person, or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly. If you have a child 16 or younger, you get an additional $500. In theory, a couple with two children under 16 could get $3,400.

The actual size of the payment, however, depends on your adjusted gross income (AGI). For single filers, the stimulus payment starts to shrink after your AGI tops $75,000. For joint filers, the vanishing point begins after $150,000. Individuals who earned more than $99,000 and couples who earned more than $198,000 jointly will not qualify for payments.

(Read the latest IRS guidance on stimulus payments here.)

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