Tax Stimulus Checks – Q & A

    As COVID-19 continues to impact the United States, the federal government is taking action to ease the burden on taxpayers. Most recently, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed a massive stimulus package and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES act was subsequently signed into law by the President (You can access the Senate bill at this link—–> THE SENATE and the House version at this link—–> THE HOUSE).

    A key feature of this stimulus package is individual ‘stimulus checks’ (To avoid any confusion, the IRS refers to these ‘stimulus checks’ as ‘Economic Impact Payments’).

    As with anything that is tax-related, there’s a little bit of confusion. To help you sort it out, here are a few questions and answers:

    Who qualifies for the stimulus payments? The payments go to almost any adult with a Social Security number, as long as they aren’t dependents of someone else. Those adults will get the payments for the children in their household.

    When will I get my check? Checks are supposed to be produced “as rapidly as possible”. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has hinted they will come in April, but it’s been suggested that it could take up to two months. One thing that is true: if you use direct deposit, you’ll get your money faster.

    (UPDATE: The Treasury Department and officials from the IRS have told the House Ways and Means Committee that the initial wave of payments will go out the week of April 13. The payments will be automatically deposited into the same bank account reflected on the 2019 or 2018 tax return filed.

    Taxpayers who will be in the first wave will have already had their direct deposit information on file with the IRS from their 2018 or 2019 tax returns. Paper checks will then start going out in May to people who don’t have direct deposit information on file with the IRS. About 5 million checks will be sent weekly, and it could take up to 20 weeks to distribute all of them. People with the lowest incomes will get their checks first.

    In the coming weeks, the U.S. Treasury  plans to develop a web-based portal that will allow individuals who have not recently submitted banking information to the IRS to do so enabling them to receive payments immediately as opposed to waiting for a check to arrive in the mail.

    In addition the IRS anticipates creating a “Where’s my Economic Impact Payment?” tracker, similar to the “Where’s my refund?” system.)

    How big will my check be? So, there are three dollar figures to be aware of in terms of the stimulus payments: $1,200 will be given to individual taxpayers, $2,400 will go to married couples filing jointly and taxpayers will receive an additional $500 per qualifying child (listed on the taxpayer’s tax return) under the age of 17.

    Are there income limits on checks? The amount of the checks would start to phaseout for those adjusted gross income more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns and $112,500 for heads of household). Take note that this is adjusted gross income (AGI), not taxable income – so this will be income before your standard or itemized deductions. FYI, you’ll find your AGI number on line 8(b) of your form 1040.

    Wait a minute, how does a phaseout work? I am glad you asked. A phaseout means that the benefit goes down as income goes up. In this case, for every $100 of income above those thresholds, your check will drop by $5. So, if you are a single filer and your AGI is $75,100, your check will be $1,195 ($1,200 – $5). If you are a single filer and your AGI is $85,000, your check will be $700 ($1,200 – $500). This also means that your stimulus check will be phased out completely (meaning that you’ll get nothing) once your AGI reaches $99,000 as a single filer, $198,000 as a married couple filing jointly, or $136,500 for heads of household.

    What about limits on children? There are no limits on the number of children that qualify. The definition of child will be the same as for the child tax credit.

    Do children born in 2020 get the payment? Parents of children born this year won’t get a payment for that child now.

    However, assuming the parents qualify based on their 2020 income, they would get $500 added to their tax refund or subtracted from their income-tax bill when they file their 2020 tax returns in early 2021.

    Will I need a Social Security Number to get a check? Yes. Or as an alternative (where applicable), an adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN). This also holds true for spouses and children.

    So how does this work? Do I need to file anything to get my check? Technically, the checks are advances of refundable credits. The Treasury will advance your check based on your most recently filed tax return (i.e., your 2018 or 2019 tax return). If you haven’t filed a tax return, and your income is from Social Security benefits (or Railroad Retirement benefits), the bill allows the Treasury to use the information on your 2019 Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement . After some initial confusion, this was confirmed by the Treasury. You can see what the Treasury said here and you can see the statement put out by the IRS here.

    Okay, I don’t understand. What the heck is a refundable tax credit? A refundable credit means that you can take advantage of the credit even if you do not owe any tax. Unlike with a nonrefundable credit, if you don’t have any tax liability, the “extra” credit is not lost but is instead refunded to you.

    In this case, the stimulus check acts like a refund that you get in advance based on your 2020 income. That’s confusing because you don’t know yet how much you’re going to earn in 2020, but that is why the IRS is using earlier tax returns. But this advance payment on the credit does not affect your “normal” tax refund for 2020: you won’t lose out on your expected tax refund for 2020 with the stimulus check

    What if I don’t get the right amount? When you file your 2020 tax return, the IRS will compare numbers. If you should have gotten a check and didn’t, or if you should have gotten more than you did because the IRS didn’t know something important (like you had a child in 2020), you should get more money.

    So taxpayers who ultimately qualify for a higher stimulus check amount than they receive this year (for example: a person whose income drops from $100,000 to $70,000) would get the rest through a larger tax refund or smaller tax payment in early 2021.

    On the other hand, if the numbers on your 2020 tax return suggest that you got more than you should because of your income, you should not have to pay it back. As it stands at this point, if your 2020 income is higher than the thresholds mentioned above and you received the stimulus check, you will not need to pay back any part of the payment. Don’t worry: most taxpayers should get just the right amount.

    Is my check taxable? NO! This is not taxable income.

    What if I am expecting a refund for the 2019 tax year? Your 2019 refund will not be affected by the stimulus check.

    How will I get my check? Direct deposit, if you’re lucky. The IRS will deposit your payment directly into the same banking account you used for direct deposit on your last filed return.

    But what if the IRS doesn’t have my direct deposit information? According to the IRS, the Treasury plans to develop has developed a web-based portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online so that individuals can receive their payments more quickly rather than waiting for a paper check. It’s not up yet but, per the IRS, it slated to be up and running by Mid-April. UPDATE (4/15/2020): That web-based portal is now up and running folks. So you can now enter your bank information to receive, by direct deposit, your ‘Economic Impact Payment’ (i.e.,stimulus payment). You will find it on the web-portal in the ‘Filers: Get Your Payment’ section. For your convenience you can access that web-portal right here.

    UPDATE (4/12/2020): This feature will be unavailable if the Economic Impact Payment has already been > scheduled <  for mail delivery.

    What if I’ve moved? Under the law, the Treasury must send notice of the payment by mail to your last known address. The notice will include how the payment was made and the amount of the payment. The notice will also include a phone number for the appropriate point of contact at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if you didn’t receive the payment. You can help make sure that it goes to the right place by updating your address after a move. Usually, you’d do that on your tax return, but you can also submit a federal form 8822, Change of Address (downloads as a PDF). It generally takes four to six weeks to process a change of address.

    What if I haven’t filed for 2018 and 2019? Do it soon, even if you have a simple, zero return. And don’t forget to include your direct deposit banking information on your return.

    But what if I am not required to file a tax return? If you don’t file a tax return due to low income and you do not receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits you can use the new “Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info Here” application at the IRS website to provide simple information so that you can receive your stimulus check.

    You will be able to find that website right here.

    What about retired folks? Retired seniors are eligible so long as they meet the other criteria (Social Security numbers, Income thresholds, etc.). As I noted above, if you depend on Social Security (or Railroad Retirement) but normally don’t file a tax return, the Treasury will rely on your SSA-1099 form (or its equivalent the RRB-1099 ) to figure and send your check.

    What about those on government benefits? And those with no income? Yes, eligible folks include those with no income, as well as those whose income comes entirely from non-taxable means-tested benefit programs, such as SSI benefits. I’ve seen a lot of confusion about this; it’s because one of the original proposals limited the checks to those who earned income. This is no longer the case.

    Will I still get the check if I owe the IRS some money? Yes. If your refund would normally be seized to pay a tax debt, that shouldn’t happen here. SHOULDN’T. Assuming it works as planned.

    I will say, though, that while the IRS has not officially provided guidance (i.e., direction) on this matter the Senate Finance Committee stated that the bill turns off nearly all ‘administrative offsets’ that ordinarily may reduce tax refunds for taxpayers who have past tax debts, or who are behind on other payments to federal or state governments, including student loan payments. The only ‘administrative offset’ that will be enforced applies to those who have past due child support obligations that the states have reported to the Treasury Department.

    What if my check is normally seized for child support? Child support is an exception to the “we won’t offset your check” rule. Under the law, your check can be seized for child support arrears.

    This is a done deal, right? Yes. It passed in the Senate and the House. The President has signed it.

    So no changes? Right? I didn’t say that. There could be additional guidance from the IRS. I’ll let you know by updating this blog.

    Not that I don’t trust you, but where can I find this in writing? You can read the Congressional Record, which notes the discussion about the checks, the vote, and the text right —-> here. (downloads as a PDF). The IRS has confirmed some of this information and will eventually post more information on its website right —-> here, but for now, there is just a banner.

    UPDATE (4/12/2020): The IRS is reporting that, for security reasons, it plans to mail a letter about the Economic Impact Payment (i.e., the stimulus check) to the taxpayer’s last known address within 15 days after the payment is paid. The letter will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive the payment. If a taxpayer is not sure that they are receiving a legitimate letter from the IRS, the IRS is urging taxpayers to visit IRS.gov first to protect against scam artists.

    EVERYONE PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE STAY WELL and STAY HEALTHY!

    BRUCE

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    Bruce – Your Host at The Tax Nook

    Our Firm’s Website: SolidTaxSolutions.com

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