The monumental coronavirus stimulus package is 247 pages long and contains $2 trillion worth of emergency aid to small businesses, millions of unemployed workers, and more, plus measures to help airlines, hospitals, and other industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the provision that probably gets the most attention in the coronavirus stimulus package — officially known as the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) — is the one that pays everyday Americans up to $1,200 apiece.
Here’s our easy-to-understand guide with answers to all your stimulus check questions and here’s a calculator to make sure you are getting the right amount.
Who Gets a Coronavirus Stimulus Check?
The vast majority of Americans are eligible to receive a stimulus check, and in most cases you don’t have to take any action to receive your payment.
An individual tax filer with an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less, and married couples jointly making up to $150,000, will receive the maximum amount: $1,200 per adult. Families with children under age 17 will also receive $500 per child. So, for example, a two-parent family with two kids under 17 and household income of $100,000 would receive a stimulus check for $3,400 ($1200 x 2) + ($500 x 2).
If you are in a higher-income bracket, you may still be eligible to receive a check — but you won’t get the maximum payment. Stimulus check amounts start decreasing as the adjusted gross income levels surpass those cited above, and they phase out entirely for individual tax filers making over $99,000, and for married couples filing jointly earning over $198,000.
Take note that the figure used for determining stimulus check payments is not your salary but your adjusted gross income. What’s that? As the IRS explains, it’s basically your total income (wages, as well as dividends, capital gains, and other income) minus certain deductions, including student loan interest and retirement account contributions. Stimulus payments are based on your adjusted gross income in your 2019 tax return if you’ve already filed, or from the 2018 tax year if you haven’t.
What Stimulus Check Amount Will I Get?
Stimulus check amounts are determined by your income, as well as the number of eligible dependents, as spelled out on your tax returns. To help you with the math, there are many online stimulus check calculators out there, including one from the non-profit Tax Foundation. However, you at least need to know your adjusted gross income in order to get an accurate idea of how much your stimulus check will be.
When Are Stimulus Checks Being Sent?
Many taxpayers reported that they had received stimulus payments via direct deposit on Wednesday, April 15, or even earlier. However, there could be many reasons why you haven’t gotten a check yet, or why you can’t check the status of your payment.
What if the IRS Doesn’t Have My Direct Deposit Information?
On Friday, April 10, an online portal went live so that people who don’t file their taxes can given their direct deposit information to the IRS. Here’s where you can fill out the form, which asks for information such as address, date of birth, and Social Security numbers for everyone eligible for stimulus checks, as well as bank direct deposit details. Another part of the IRS portal, the Get My Payment app, went live on April 15, allowing taxpayers to add their direct deposit information and check the status of their payments.
However, the last day to give direct deposit information to the Get My Payment app was May 13. If you missed that deadline, but you are eligible and registered for a payment, it will come via paper check
Stimulus payments to the “unbanked” — people who do not have bank accounts, and who therefore have nowhere for money to be sent via direct deposit — will likely face some delay. The IRS says that it will mail checks to taxpayers who have not provided direct deposit details to the agency. Through the first four weeks of the program, the IRS says it had distributed 130 million stimulus payments out of an expected 150 million payments.
The Associated Press reported that it obtained a copy of a government memo indicating that paper stimulus checks would be mailed out starting May 4, at a rate of roughly 5 million checks per week. At such a pace, it could take 20 weeks for the IRS to send all of the checks expected to be mailed. So some people would not receive their stimulus checks until mid-August.
Suffice it to say that the fastest way to get your stimulus check is to make sure that the IRS has your bank direct deposit information on file.
Can I Get a Stimulus Check if I Don’t File Taxes?
Yes, under limited circumstances, it’s possible to get a check even if you haven’t filed taxes in recent years. People who receive Social Security benefits and do not normally file taxes are still eligible for $1,200 checks without taking any action. On April 17, the IRS also said that VA benefits recipients will receive stimulus payments, assuming they’re eligible, without any actions required.
“Recipients will receive these payments as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their benefits,” a Department of Treasury statement explains. “Most Social Security, Social Security Disability Insurance and Railroad Retirement recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return do not need to take action,” the IRS says.
However, if you receive Social Security and have dependents under age 17, you won’t receive an additional $500 per child unless you’ve filed taxes for 2018 or 2019. Why? As the IRS explains, without a tax return listing the eligible dependents, the IRS “would not have information regarding any dependents for these people, each person would receive $1,200 per person, without the additional amount for any dependents at this time.”
Even though it’s not required for Social Security beneficiaries to get stimulus payments without filing their taxes, it’s probably a good idea to file a return anyway as soon as possible. As the Tax Policy Center explains, those who have filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns and have given their direct deposit details to the IRS will likely receive their payments much more quickly. They’ll also receive the proper amount if they have dependents eligible for additional $500 payments each.
Also, there are some low-income Americans and other people who don’t need to file taxes normally who are eligible for stimulus checks but won’t receive them unless they file their taxes or register at the Non-Filers IRS portal.
Bottom line: If you want to make sure you get a stimulus check — and ensure that you receive it as quickly as possible — file a 2019 tax return and provide the IRS with your bank direct deposit information.
Can I Track My Stimulus Check?
The IRS has an online “Where’s My Refund? tool that allows taxpayers to check their tax refund status. The agency promised that a similar web portal would be available in mid-April so that recipients could track their stimulus checks and update their bank info, if necessary. As of April 15, the tool, called Get My Payment, was live.
Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Stimulus Checks?
No. Stimulus checks sent out in 2001 and 2008 were not considered taxable income, and coronavirus stimulus payments will also not be taxed.
I Just Got a Message About Stimulus Checks. Is It a Scam?
In all likelihood, yes. The IRS warns that seniors in particular are likely to targeted with coronavirus stimulus scams, so be on guard. Often, scammers will ask for your bank information for supposed direct deposit verification, or promise that they can speed up your payment if you provide personal details.
It’s important to know that while the IRS regularly uses USPS mail for correspondence with taxpayers, it will never reach out to you via phone, email, text message, or social media. If you are contacted through any of these methods, it is all but guaranteed to be a scam.
More from Money.com: