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AARP Answers: Your Tax Return and the Coronavirus

The latest on filing extensions, tax refunds, deductions and more

Tax form with a United States Treasury check I R S tax Form 1040 and W 2 and a calculator on top of the forms

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Editor’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.

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Do I need to file a 2019 tax return to receive a stimulus check?

Not necessarily. If you haven’t filed a federal tax return for 2019, the IRS will look at your 2018 return to determine eligibility for a stimulus check. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will get their checks sent automatically, as will Social Security, SSDI and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries. The IRS will also send out checks automatically to 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. VA and SSI recipients who started benefits in 2019 or earlier must use the tool by May 5 to claim their $500 dependent payment. Social Security and SSI recipients who started benefits in 2020 and didn’t file in 2018 or 2019 should use the tool to get their $1,200 checks and their $500 dependent checks. They don’t have to worry about the May 5 deadline, but they sooner they register, the sooner they get their checks.

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.

Would my stimulus check payment be considered taxable income?

No.

Will my tax refund be delayed by the coronavirus?

Only if you file a paper return. The IRS said that as of April 9, it could not process paper returns. If you already have filed via paper but it has not yet been processed, do not file a second tax return or write to the IRS to inquire about the status of your return or your economic impact payment. Paper returns will be processed  once processing centers are able to reopen.
For those who have filed electronically, there should be no delays. The average income tax refund is $2,973 so far this year, with more than 76 million refunds already processed, and the Internal Revenue Service says that it doesn't anticipate any delays in issuing additional refunds. The IRS issues 9 out of 10 refunds within 21 days. You can track the progress of your refund with the Where's My Refund? tool operated by the IRS. You'll need your Social Security number, tax status and exact amount of your refund to use the tool.

Has the outbreak affected the deadlines for filing and paying 2019 federal income taxes?

Yes. The Internal Revenue Service has moved the tax filing deadline to July 15 from April 15. That's the deadline for paying federal taxes, too. Enjoy the extra three months, but if you owe taxes and miss the later deadlines, the IRS will charge you both interest and penalties.

If you think you can't make the July 15 filing deadline, you can get an automatic extension to Oct. 15 by filing IRS Form 4868. The Oct. 15 deadline will not be pushed back. If you do file form 4868, you'll still have to pay taxes due by July 15.

Is my state income tax deadline moved back, too?

Possibly. The Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy nonprofit, says multiple states have changed tax filing deadlines in response to the change in the federal filing deadline, with the majority of states moving their deadlines to July 15. Check with your state's tax department to confirm your filing deadline.

Can I still file my taxes for free?

About 70 percent of taxpayers are eligible to file federal tax returns online through IRS Free File, which connects single filers and families with annual income of $69,000 or less to free filing software from select partners like H&R Block, TaxAct and TurboTax. To browse options and confirm your eligibility, visit the Free File page on IRS.gov.

The IRS has tightened standards on Free File providers in 2020 to make it easier to find Free File options and to protect filers from unnecessary fees. Keep in mind, though, that there may be additional fees to file state tax returns, as well as to file returns if your income exceeds $69,000. But the Free File providers are required to disclose this prominently.

Should I file now or wait until July 15?

You should file as soon as possible if you're getting a refund. Why wait? If you have to pay, there's no reason to hurry, unless you worry that you'd spend your payment frivolously. If you owe taxes, don't miss the July 15 deadline or you could face penalties and interest.

When is the deadline for making 2019 contributions to an IRA?

It's July 15, now that the normal April 15 tax-filing deadline has been extended by three months. You also have until July 15 to make contributions to a health savings account.

Will I be hit with a tax penalty for making an early withdrawal from my retirement account?

The coronavirus relief bill called the CARES Act, waives the 10 percent penalty for early withdrawals from retirement accounts for workers facing difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak. Those withdrawals are still be taxable, but over three years — and you can add back the withdrawn retirement funds for three years, thereby escaping the additional tax. Those returned contributions don't affect retirement account contribution caps.

I'd like to donate money to the local food bank. Any chance I can deduct it?

Charitable giving is always theoretically deductible, as long as your itemized deductions including donations to charity add up to more than the standard deduction — $12,400 for individuals and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly for the 2020 tax year. What's changing is a provision in the CARES Act that would allow taxpayers who don't itemize to deduct up to $300 worth of charitable donations. The so-called above-the-line deduction would be on top of the standard deduction.

When are my estimated taxes due?

Your estimated taxes for the first and second quarter, normally due April 15 and June 15, respectively, are both due July 15.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the latest information from the IRS on tax filing requirements for stimulus payments.

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