tax tips — April 14, 2020

Stimulus Checks and Your Household—How Coronavirus Economic Impact Payments Work for Families

by Susannah McQuitty

How stimulus payments and EIPs work for families


Updated September 17, 2020

As more updates come through from the IRS each week on who qualifies and how people will receive stimulus payments, it can get very confusing—especially if you have a family.

Let’s run through stimulus payments, also known as Economic Impact Payments (EIPs), and how they might affect your household.

How do families qualify for an Economic Impact Payment (EIP)?

Most taxpayers won’t have to take any action to claim an EIP; qualification is determined by either a 2018 or 2019 tax return. Recipients of Social Security (SS), Railroad Retirement (RR), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Veterans Benefits (VA) will also receive an EIP for themselves automatically, if eligible. However, you need to use the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info tool on the site to register for an EIP if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • If you’re not required to file and don’t receive any of the government benefits mentioned above, or
  • If you do receive any of the government benefits mentioned above and you have child dependents that qualify for the extra $500.

If you receive government benefits, aren’t required to file a tax return, and never received the additional $500 per qualifying child, use the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info tool to update your information. SS, SSI, RR, and VA recipients must act before Wednesday, September 30 to receive their additional payment in October.

It is unclear whether SSDI recipients could qualify for this window to update their information, but it doesn’t hurt to try—at the end of the day, you should receive your additional $500 when you receive your refund in 2021 if you don’t get it sooner.

Will my family get multiple payments for Coronavirus relief?

EIPs (also known as stimulus payments) are distributed per taxpayer or per married couple if they file jointly. If you file jointly, you’ll receive one payment with additional amounts added if you have dependents 16 and younger. If you file separately, or if you’re not married, you and your partner will receive separate payments.

If you don’t file taxes but receive certain government benefits, you will receive your payment the same way you receive your government benefits; see the above section for what happens if you have child dependents.

My family is split—how will we get a payment?

Payments are delivered on an individual taxpayer basis unless you are married and filing a joint return. If you’re separated, unmarried, or married but filing separate tax returns, each adult taxpayer will receive a separate payment with additional amounts for each dependent claimed.

Also, remember that your marital and filing status will be pulled from your most recently-filed tax return—so if you filed a joint return in 2018 and split up in 2019, you’ll need to file your 2019 tax return to let the IRS know you are no longer fling jointly. If you aren’t required to file, us the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info tool to register your information for the EIP.

Now, here’s where it gets complicated. Whoever claims a dependent on their taxes will receive the additional amount for that dependent. For example: If you are divorced and you and your former spouse take turns claiming your daughter, whoever claims her as a dependent on their 2019 tax return would receive the additional stimulus amount for that child. However, the spouse who claims the child on the 2020 tax return may be able to claim up to $500 on that return (a rare scenario where double-dipping may be acceptable).

The reality is that the Treasury and the IRS are rolling this out at light speed (especially for the federal government), and there are scenarios we can’t predict. In some cases, you may not know your payment amount until it hits your bank account or mailbox. In the meantime, the IRS has released the Get My Payment tool to allow you to track your stimulus payment.

How big will my family’s stimulus check be?

Married adults who file jointly will get $2,400, and each child 16 and younger in a given household will add another $500 to the total amount. If you are married and filing separately, each of you will get $1,200 plus $500 per child claimed as a dependent on your own tax return.

Be aware that there are phaseouts, though—if you make more than a certain amount, your EIP could be reduced all the way to $0. For married adults who file jointly, the phaseout begins at $150,000 and ends when AGI exceeds $198,000.

If you file separately without claiming any dependents, your stimulus payment will begin to phase out at $75,000 and phases out completely once AGI exceeds $99,000. If you do claim dependents and file as head of household, the phase out begins at $112,500 and your payment will be reduced to $0 when AGI exceeds $146,500.

Head spinning? Let’s make this a little easier: You can use our Stimulus Calculator to see how much you should receive based on the latest from the IRS and your finances, filing status, and dependents.

Can I get any sort of stimulus payment for my dependents who are 17 and older?

Unfortunately, no—if your dependent is 17 or older by the end of 2019, you won’t receive the $500 relief for that child. Your kid also won’t be able to claim the $1,200 payment for single taxpayers, since they are being claimed as a dependent on your tax return. However, they could receive the $1,200 stimulus amount as a tax credit next year if you do not claim them as a dependent for 2020 and if they file their own individual tax return.

What if my child was 16 on my 2019 taxes? Our understanding is that the IRS will use the age as reported on your 2019 taxes, even though this is technically considered a 2020 tax benefit. So if your child was 16 or younger on December 31, 2019, we believe you will receive $500 for him.

What if I’m caring for an elderly parent and claim them as a dependent on my taxes? Unfortunately, they also do not qualify for the $500 stimulus payment because they don’t meet the age requirement.

I have a child who was born in 2020—will I get the $500 bonus?

Probably not, since the IRS is basing your qualification on your 2019 or 2018 tax return (before your dependent was born). The good news is that you should be able to claim that $500 on next year’s tax return.

Stay informed and stay healthy

We’re staying up-to-date with the latest tax and financial relief news for COVID-19. You can keep up on our Coronavirus page to stay in the know—in the meantime, we hope you and yours are staying happy and healthy.

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