The global health emergency caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a devastating effect on the economy. Social distancing, shelter-in-place orders, and limitations on nonessential business and public gatherings have hit the stock market, businesses of all sizes and American households very hard. Despite economic growth in recent years, a 2019 report published by the Financial Health Network found that only 29 percent of Americans are considered financially healthy—and this data was collected before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Widespread illness, furloughs, and permanent layoffs coupled with recommendations for families to stock up on food and household goods have exacerbated financial stress and insecurity. To encourage spending, support individuals and businesses, and help revive the economy, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus bill entitled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act into law. An important part of this aid package is direct monetary payments to millions of Americans. Most people will not have to do anything to receive their stimulus checks, but some people who don’t typically file tax returns will need to take additional steps to receive their economic impact payments.
Who Is Eligible for a Coronavirus Economic Impact Payment?
U.S. residents who have a work-eligible Social Security number and are not a dependent of another taxpayer will receive COVID-19 financial relief payments as long as they meet certain income limits. To qualify, adjusted gross income from tax year 2019 (or 2018 for those who have not yet filed or do not intend to) must be less than $75,000 for individuals, less than $112,500 for heads of household and less than $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns. Those with income under these limits are eligible to receive the full payment amount—$1,200 for individuals and heads of household and $2,400 for married couples filing jointly.
Taxpayers whose adjusted gross income falls in the following ranges will receive reduced aid payments.
- $75,000–$99,000 for individuals and those married filing separately
- $112,500–$136,500 for heads of household
- $150,000–$198,000 for those married filing jointly
The amount of the reduced payment is based upon a person’s specific adjusted gross income.
Additionally, eligible individuals are entitled to an extra $500 for each qualifying dependent child under age 17 they claim.
Who Isn’t Eligible?
High-income individuals are not eligible for financial relief payments; income limits are based on a person’s filing status. Taxpayers are ineligible if their adjusted gross income exceeds:
- $99,000 if filing as single or married filing separately
- $136,500 if filing as head of household
- $198,000 if married filing jointly
Individuals who are claimed as dependents will not receive payments. Many family caregivers financially support their aging loved ones and claim them as dependents on their taxes. However, the $500 payment increase mentioned above only applies to qualifying dependent children. Even if a family caregiver claimed their elderly mother as a dependent on their taxes, they do not qualify for any additional relief funds.
Nonresident aliens, individuals without a valid Social Security number and those who filed Form 1040-NR, Form 1040NR-EZ, Form 1040-PR or Form 1040-SS for 2019 are not eligible for economic impact payments either.
Do I Have to Do Anything to Get My Payment?
The IRS uses a person’s most recent tax return information and/or government benefit information to determine their eligibility, payment amount and location for mailing or direct depositing funds.
Eligible individuals will receive their payments automatically if they filed a federal income tax return for 2018 or 2019. Those who receive Social Security retirement, survivors, or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and those who receive Railroad Retirement benefits will also receive automatic payments. However, some individuals who don’t receive Social Security benefits and don’t make enough money to typically need to file a tax return will need to take an extra step to ensure they get the payments they’re eligible for in a timely manner. The IRS has created a new online system for “non-filers” to enter their payment information safely and securely, which can be accessed directly on the IRS.gov non-filers page.
A “Get My Payment” tool also debuted on the IRS website this week that will allow filers to check their payment status, confirm their payment type, submit direct deposit information and update their mailing address. Filers can access this platform here.
It is important that people who do have an obligation to file tax returns for 2018 and 2019 but have not yet done so file as soon as possible to receive their coronavirus payment. Stimulus payments will be available throughout the rest of 2020.
When Will I Get My Coronavirus Stimulus Check?
The U.S. Treasury Department and IRS are working to verify taxpayers’ direct deposit bank account information and disburse the first waves of economic relief payments. Direct deposits reportedly began on April 11, and more than 80 million Americans are expected to receive their payments by April 15. In May, the IRS plans to begin mailing paper checks to those who do not have direct deposit bank accounts. This is a huge undertaking and the process of disbursing funds is projected to last several months.
The IRS will mail recipients a follow-up letter within 15 days after disbursement. This letter should detail how the payment was made and provide instructions on how to report payments that were not received.
Will Stimulus Checks Affect Medicaid Eligibility?
Many low-income seniors and caregivers have concerns about whether this sudden influx of money will affect Medicaid eligibility, and rightly so. While the exact limits vary from state to state and for different programs, a single beneficiary must generally keep their income below $2,349 a month and their assets below $2,000 to qualify for Medicaid in 2020. The average coronavirus economic impact payment of $1,200 could very easily set a senior over Medicaid’s financial limits, seemingly jeopardizing their long-term care benefits.
The good news is that the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) has explained in a blog post that these stimulus checks do not count as income for Americans who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Furthermore, these funds will be excluded as resources for 12 months. This may seem unrelated, but in most states an SSI application also doubles as an application for Medicaid. State Medicaid programs are barred from enforcing eligibility requirements that are stricter than those the SSA uses for the SSI program. Therefore, these stimulus checks should have no impact on seniors’ Medicaid eligibility.
Avoid Coronavirus Stimulus Check Scams
Scammers have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread uncertainty and urgency it has caused to trick vulnerable people out of their money and into sharing sensitive personal information. These economic impact payments are a new target for dishonest individuals. Be aware that the IRS will never call, text, email or otherwise contact you to collect personal or financial information. Any scams related to the coronavirus should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov/complaint.
The coronavirus situation is constantly evolving, so be sure to check the IRS Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments website regularly for the latest updates.
Sources: U.S. Financial Health Pulse 2019 Trends Report (https://s3.amazonaws.com/cfsi-innovation-files-2018/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/16161507/2019-Pulse-Report-FINAL_1205.pdf); Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf); Economic Impact Payment Information Center (https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments); Over 80 Million Americans Will Receive Economic Impact Payments in their Bank Accounts This Week (https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm975); Medicaid Eligibility: 2020 Income, Asset & Care Requirements for Nursing Homes & Long-Term Care (medicaidplanningassistance.org/medicaid-eligibility/)