Editor’s note: This story covers the first round of stimulus checks authorized by the CARES Act on March 27, 2020. A second round of stimulus checks was included in coronavirus relief legislation signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. Go here for more information on the second round of $600 stimulus checks. A third round of $1,400 stimulus checks was signed into law by the president on March 11, 2021.
En español | Federal lawmakers enacted a $2 trillion economic stimulus package on March 27, 2020 that sent most Americans checks of up to $1,200, as a way to put money directly in the pockets of families struggling to manage the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation will give single adults who reported adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less on their 2019 tax returns a one-time check for $1,200. Married couples who filed jointly will receive $2,400. Families will get an additional $500 for each child under 17.
In a letter sent to Congress on March 17, AARP asked lawmakers to provide payments directly to Americans as part of any stimulus packages.
"We support direct cash payments to individuals whether working, unable to work, unemployed, or retired,” said AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond in the letter. “Unlike a payroll tax rebate, which helps only those who receive payroll checks, direct payments provide benefits more broadly, including to people most in need."
Social Security recipients eligible for stimulus checks
AARP worked to ensure that individuals who are collecting Social Security benefits for retirement, disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will be eligible for the stimulus payments. AARP also successfully fought to guarantee that low-income Social Security recipients will receive the full $1,200 check, not $600 as originally proposed.
The size of the check will decrease based on income for individuals who earned more than $75,000 based on their federal tax return for 2019 (or their 2018 return if they have not filed yet). The payment for individuals will shrink by $5 for every $100 earned over $75,000. For couples who filed jointly, the reduction will start once they earn more than $150,000; for heads of household, at $112,500.
Individuals who earned more than $99,000 and couples who earned more than $198,000 jointly will not receive checks. The income cut-off for heads of households is $136,500.
Payments to Social Security beneficiaries will go out automatically
According to the IRS, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who weren’t required to file federal tax returns for 2018 or 2019 will receive $1,200 stimulus payments automatically based on information contained in their “1099” benefit statements. No additional paperwork is required, per the latest guidance from the IRS.
The IRS reversed an earlier decision and now says it will look at “1099” benefit statements (Form SSA-1099 and Form RRB-1099) to get the information it needs to send out the $1,200 payments automatically in the same manner monthly benefits are received. The vast majority of Social Security recipients receive monthly benefits by direct deposit.
"AARP fought hard to ensure these payments would go to people who rely on Social Security and aren't required to file taxes,” said Bill Sweeney, AARP's senior vice president for government affairs. “It was just wrong to ask them to fill out extra paperwork, especially in the middle of this crisis, to get the benefits they need. We are very thankful the IRS reversed course and agreed to work with Social Security to get these checks out automatically without extra paperwork or red tape."
SSDI disability beneficiaries also to get payments automatically
Stimulus payments will also go out automatically to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients who were not required to file tax returns for 2018 or 2019. Like Social Security beneficiaries, SSDI beneficiaries also receive SSA-1099 benefits statements every January, which the IRS will use to send the payments.
SSI recipients and VA beneficiaries will get automatic payments
On April 15, the Social Security Administration announced that SSI recipients without dependent children will receive their stimulus payments automatically without having to file any additional forms. The stimulus payment will be sent to these SSI recipients the same way they get their normal benefits, either through direct deposit, Direct Express debit card, or paper check. The Treasury Department says it expects payments for SSI recipients to go out no later than early May.
The IRS also has announced that people who receive Compensation and Pensions (C&P) benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs will receive their stimulus payments automatically even if they have not filed tax returns for 2018 or 2019. The IRS, which made the announcement on April 17, did not say when the stimulus payments would be sent to VA beneficiaries.
People who receive VA benefits, Social Security retirement, SSDI or SSI benefits, and railroad retirement benefits who also have dependent children under the age of 17 who qualify for stimulus money should complete the IRS online form for non-filers in order to get the additional $500 per child payments for these dependents. Beneficiaries in these group who do not provide this information to the IRS soon will have to wait until later to receive the payments for dependents. On April 24, the IRS announced the SSI and VA beneficiaries had until May 5 to use the non-filers web tool to provide information about their eligible child dependents. Otherwise, they will receive $1,200 automatically and, by law, the additional $500 per eligible child would be paid in association with a return filing for tax year 2020.
The IRS also said that Direct Express account holders may use the IRS’s Non-Filer tool, but they cannot receive their and their children’s payment on their Direct Express card. They may only enter non-Direct Express bank account information for direct deposit, or leave the bank information empty to receive a paper check by mail.
For everyone else who was not required to file 2018 or 2019 tax returns, and who are not Social Security recipients, SSDI recipients, VA beneficiaries, or railroad retirees, the IRS has created a free, online tool you can use to quickly register to receive your stimulus payment if you don’t typically file a tax return due to your income level. People who may fall into this category include some low-income workers.
The tool is available only on IRS.gov. You can access the registration by clicking this link or going to the IRS website and looking for “Non-filers: Enter Payment Info Here.” The tool will ask you for some basic information including your name, address, Social Security number, and dependents. The IRS then will confirm your eligibility, calculate how much you should receive, and send a stimulus payment. If you enter your bank account information, the IRS will deposit your payment directly in your account. Otherwise, your payment will be mailed to you. Using the tool will not result in any taxes being owed.
May 13 was the deadline for people to use the online tool to enter their bank account information in order to receive their stimulus payments via direct deposit. Those people who did not include their banking information on either their 2018 or 2019 tax returns and also did not submit that information using the online tool before the May 13 deadline will receive their stimulus payments as paper checks in the mail rather than direct deposits.
The IRS says it will continue looking for ways to send stimulus payments automatically to people who did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019. The agency says people in this group can either use Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info option now or wait as the IRS explores possible automatic payment options for these groups.
AARP urged the IRS to make automatic stimulus payments to SSI and VA beneficiaries without the burden of filing any additional paperwork.
The IRS started sending out stimulus payments in mid-April. You may check on the status of your stimulus payment by using this IRS website.
The IRS originally said that prisoners were allowed to get $1,200 stimulus checks, provided they qualified under income and citizenship guidelines. Then they reversed their position and told incarcerated people to return their stimulus checks. Now a federal judge has ruled that incarcerated people can indeed get stimulus checks. Incarcerated people who filed a 2019 or 2018 tax return, received benefits through Social Security, Railroad Retirement or the Department of Veterans Affairs should get a check through the mail. Those who used the IRS Non Filers Tool should also get a check through the mail. Those who don’t have access to a computer can fill out a simplified 2019 federal tax return by November 4. The last date to use the Non Filers Tool is November 21. You can find useful information about getting your stimulus check at caresactprisoncase.org.
What to do with payments for deceased relatives
Some people have received stimulus payments for loved ones who have died. The IRS recently announced that those payments must be returned the agency.
“A [stimulus] payment made to someone who died before receipt of the payment should be returned to the IRS by following the instructions about repayments,” according to updated guidance posted on IRS.gov on May 6. “Return the entire payment unless the payment was made to joint filers and one spouse had not died before receipt of the payment, in which case, you only need to return the portion of the payment made on account of the decedent. This amount will be $1,200 unless adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000.”
You may find the instructions and address for returning a stimulus check by clicking on this link and scrolling to the end of the article.