En español | The IRS has sent a wave of pandemic stimulus checks to government retirees who normally don’t file federal income taxes. Now the agency is sending payments to Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who don’t normally file taxes. But the Social Security Administration (SSA) says if you are a beneficiary and haven’t gotten your stimulus check, you need to file a 2020 tax return now to get any stimulus payments due to you.
To date, the IRS has delivered 164 million stimulus payments worth about $386 billion during the coronavirus relief mandated by the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed on March 11.
Many low-income beneficiaries — including recipients of Social Security retirement and disability benefits, as well as recipients of SSI benefits administered by the Social Security Administration — aren’t required to file tax returns, and some of those payments were delayed. The IRS said it was waiting for updated information from the SSA on bank accounts and addresses of federal beneficiaries to ensure the stimulus payments reach eligible individuals.
AARP has pushed the IRS and the SSA to move more swiftly to get those checks to individuals who don’t file federal income taxes.
“We urge you to provide clear information on the IRS and other federal agency websites about when exactly these groups should expect their payments. Older Americans are counting on these payments to make ends meet. We urge you to prioritize these federal beneficiaries in both your payment distribution and communications efforts moving forward,” Bill Sweeney, AARP’s senior vice president of government affairs, wrote in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on March 25. A similar letter from AARP went to Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul on the same day.
On March 25 the SSA gave the IRS the updated information required to begin delivering stimulus checks to some 30 million federal beneficiaries still awaiting payments, Saul said.
As a result, the majority of those who receive Social Security retirement and disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Railroad Retirement Board benefits — and didn’t file 2019 or 2020 tax returns or use the IRS online Non-Filers Tool last year — got their payments around April 7, mostly through direct deposits or payments to existing Direct Express cards. The IRS began sending those 25 million payments, worth $36 billion, on April 2. Additional payments have been sent every week since then.
The updated information from the SSA helped ensure that direct deposits go to correct bank accounts and that paper checks and debit cards go to correct mailing addresses. The revised information should also reduce the number of payments sent to deceased individuals, which was a problem in the first two rounds of economic stimulus. Anyone who died in 2020 or earlier isn’t eligible for the third stimulus payment.
Now, however, the SSA says that if you haven’t gotten a first, second or third stimulus payment – or if you haven’t gotten the full amount – you need to file a 2020 tax return and claim the 2020 recovery rebate credit (RRC) as soon as possible. People should file the 2020 tax return even if they have no income to report for 2020. When the tax return is processed, the IRS will pay the RRC as a tax refund. The IRS will send any additional third stimulus amount owed in 2021 separately. If people already filed their 2020 tax return, they do not need to do anything else.
Stimulus checks for dependents, VA beneficiaries
Payments to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) beneficiaries who don’t normally file taxes and who didn’t use the IRS online Non-Filers tool last year started going out April 9, with a payable date of April 14. The batch of 2 million stimulus payments, worth more than $3.4 million, also went to eligible people who had not filed a tax return until this year and didn’t use the IRS Non-Filers Tool last year. Some of these payments were what the IRS calls “plus-up” payments to those who got stimulus payments based on their 2019 returns and then filed 2020 returns.
The third round of stimulus checks, authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act, provides a maximum of $1,400 to eligible individuals, $2,800 to couples and $1,400 to dependents. Unlike the previous two rounds, there’s no age limit on stimulus checks for dependents, so it’s possible to get a check for a dependent college-age student or an aged parent. Because dependents are claimed on tax returns, the IRS can use that information to send out stimulus payments for dependents to tax filers.
People who do not file tax returns currently, however, have no mechanism (other than filing a return) for reporting their dependents to the IRS in order to get a third-round dependent payment. Thus, the IRS recommends that all nonfilers with dependents, including many federal beneficiaries, file a 2020 tax return in order to get their stimulus payments for dependents. The deadline for filing a 2020 tax return has been extended to May 17.
During the first round of stimulus payments, the IRS created a tool on irs.gov that allowed people to enter information about dependents without filing a tax return. The deadline to use the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool was Nov. 21, 2020. The tool is closed, and the IRS has not indicated that it will be reopened for the third round of stimulus checks. People still owed a stimulus payment from the first two rounds, for themselves or their dependents, are instructed to file a 2020 tax return to claim the missing money in the form of a recovery rebate tax credit — an added burden during the pandemic that AARP has resisted.
John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and USA Today, and has written books on investing and the 1998 financial crisis. Waggoner's USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.