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Stimulus Checks: Who Is Eligible and How Much Will They Be?

The law will send $1,200 checks to many, including Social Security recipients

A refund check sits on a table

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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.

En español | Federal lawmakers enacted a $2 trillion economic stimulus package on March 27 that will send 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. 

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In a letter sent to Congress on March 17, AARP asked lawmakers to consider providing checks 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."

Quick Questions

I get Social Security benefits. Do I have to file taxes to get a check?

According to the latest information from the IRS, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees will receive $1,200 stimulus payments even if they didn’t file federal tax returns for 2018 or 2019. 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 in the same manner monthly benefits are received. The vast majority of Social Security recipients receive monthly benefits by direct deposit. However, the IRS says some Americans who haven’t filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns, and who don’t receive Social Security benefits, will need to file a “simple” tax return. The IRS says it will issue more guidance on what constitutes a “simple” tax return in the future.

"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."

Will people on Social Security disability get a stimulus check?

If you receive Social Security benefits for disability, retirement or Supplemental Security Income, you are eligible to receive a stimulus payment. Only individuals whose annual adjusted gross income exceeds $99,000 will not get a payment.

Social Security recipients eligible

AARP worked to ensure that individuals who are collecting Social Security benefits for retirement, disability or Supplemental Security Income 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. This calculator can help you determine how much you might receive in a stimulus check.

Individuals who earned more than $99,000 and couples who earned more than $198,000 jointly will not receive checks.

According to the IRS, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who haven’t filed tax returns for 2018 or 2019 will receive $1,200 stimulus payments based on information contained in their “1099” benefit statements. No additional paperwork is required, per the latest guidance from the IRS. However, for those who haven’t filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns, and who are not Social Security recipients or railroad retirees, a “simple” tax return will be required even if you don’t ordinarily file a tax return. The IRS has yet to specify what is meant by a "simple” tax return. That may be a challenge for some, depending of the IRS’s ultimate guidance, because many services that help low-income taxpayers file tax returns for free have suspended in-person operations to deter the spread of the coronavirus. Most low-income taxpayers are eligible to file tax returns online for free through the IRS Free File program.

The IRS said on March 30 that the distribution of stimulus payments would begin “in the next three weeks.”

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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