On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the latest in a series of federal emergency stimulus measures to mitigate the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The $2.2 trillion package featured expanded unemployment insurance benefits for American workers, targeted support for industries hit hard by the pandemic, and billions in fiscal aid for small and midsize businesses.
It also provided for the first round of cash stimulus payments to individuals in more than a decade. The last came in 2008 as the U.S. economy languished amid a worsening global financial crisis.
According to the IRS, most Americans will receive one-time cash payments from the Treasury Department beginning in April 2020. These payments top out at $1,200 for adult individuals and $2,400 for married couples who jointly file tax returns, depending on income. Minor dependents receive $500 per child.
Before you start thinking up ideas for what to do with your economic stimulus check, it pays to know the details. Bookmark this article for more information on your stimulus eligibility and likely payment amount, the latest updates on when to expect your payment, and news about any future rounds of economic stimulus.
Are You Eligible for a COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Payment?
Most Americans are eligible to receive economic stimulus payments — which the IRS calls “economic impact payments” — under the CARES Act. However, many won’t receive the full $1,200 allotment per adult, and some won’t receive any payment at all. Eligible recipients who typically don’t file tax returns (or didn’t file in 2018 or 2019) must file at least a simple return to ensure receipt. Note that regardless of your income or the amount you receive, you won’t owe tax on any portion of your stimulus payment.
Income Limits & Phaseouts for COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments
The maximum adjusted gross income (AGI) to receive the full $1,200 allotment per adult American is:
- $75,000 for single filers, including married individuals who file separate returns
- $112,500 for head-of-household filers, a common filing status for single parents
- $150,000 per couple for joint filers
Above these thresholds, the payment amount phases out (gradually decreases) by $5 for every $100 in additional AGI until phasing out entirely at $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers with no dependents.
If you filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, the IRS will use your most recent AGI to calculate your payment.
Economic Impact Payments for Children
Filers who claim dependent children on their tax returns receive $500 per child, subject to maximum income limitations.
Benefits for dependent children don’t begin phasing out until their parents or guardians hit the maximum income threshold for their own stimulus payments. At that point, child payments step down by $5 for every $100 in additional AGI until phasing out entirely. The step-down rate does not depend on the number of child dependents claimed, so the final phaseout threshold rises in proportion to the total dependent count.
If you filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, the IRS will use your most recent return to calculate your qualifying dependent payments.
Tax Return Filing Requirements for People Who Normally Don’t File Returns
If you don’t usually file a tax return or did not file a return in 2018 or 2019, you must file a simple tax return before the end of calendar year 2020 to claim your economic impact payment.
You must file a simple return even if you have no taxable income or receive credits that entirely offset your income or result in an IRS refund payment, such as the earned income tax credit. Your simple tax return must include basic information about you and your tax situation, including:
- Your filing status
- Your address or direct deposit bank account information
- The number of dependents you can claim on your return (if any)
If you’re not required to file a federal income tax return under normal circumstances, you won’t be required to file one to report your economic impact payment.
If you fall into this group, there’s a good chance you can file your simple tax return with no out-of-pocket expense. Use a free tax filing resource that allows filers who meet certain income and demographic criteria to file for free.
How & When to Expect Your Stimulus Payment
To reduce costs and expedite delivery, the IRS prefers to send COVID-19 economic impact payments electronically rather than by check. However, the IRS needs up-to-date bank account information to execute electronic payments. If the IRS doesn’t have your current bank account on file and you’d prefer to receive your payment electronically, you need to take action.
How to Receive Your Stimulus Payment Electronically
If you’ve already filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes and provided your direct deposit information to the IRS (and that information is still correct), you don’t need to take further action unless you’ve closed your direct deposit account in the meantime. Expect your payment to arrive in that account sometime after April 20.
If the IRS doesn’t have a current bank account on file for you and you haven’t yet filed your 2019 taxes, file by April 15 to ensure the IRS can process your stimulus payment electronically. Because the IRS extended the filing deadline for 2019 taxes to July 15, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you don’t need to file your 2019 taxes by April 15 this year. But filing by the typical deadline will likely expedite your economic impact payment.
If you aren’t ready to file your 2019 taxes but would prefer to receive your stimulus payment electronically, check the IRS’s coronavirus information page for updates on its plans to deploy a secure portal where taxpayers can provide current direct deposit information. The IRS expects this portal to be operational before disbursing the first impact payments but hasn’t given an official date for its launch.
How to Receive Your Stimulus Payment by Check
If you don’t mind receiving your stimulus payment by check and the IRS has your current address on file, you don’t need to take any action.
If the IRS does not have your current address on file because you moved since filing your most recent return, complete and mail Form 8822. Be sure to send this form to the appropriate IRS mailing address, which is printed on Page 2 of the form.
If you plan to file a 2019 return before the IRS begins distributing economic impact payments, you can update your address on the return.
If you haven’t filed a return recently and you’ve changed addresses since you last filed a return, you must file a simple tax return to ensure the IRS has accurate address information on file.
When to Expect Your Stimulus Payment
On March 30, the IRS announced its intention to distribute economic stimulus payments beginning in three weeks, or around April 20.
While the IRS hasn’t provided any details about the timing or order of individual payments, all indications are that electronic recipients will take priority. If you’re OK with (or prefer) receiving your payment by check, expect to wait several weeks (and perhaps longer) to get it.
In either case, within a few weeks of your payment’s issuance, the IRS will mail you a written notification stating how and when it was disbursed. If you receive this notification and can’t locate your payment, contact the IRS for more information.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already hit the economy hard. With the outbreak showing no signs of slowing, further fiscal pain — not to mention human suffering and loss of life — is inevitable.
Though some employers are hiring during the COVID-19 pandemic, most are battening down the hatches and counting on government assistance to help ride out the storm. To the extent you’re able, consider using a portion of your economic stimulus payment to support small businesses during the pandemic. They need our help now more than ever.
What do you plan to do with your COVID-19 economic stimulus payment?