PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Congress has passed an unprecedented $2 trillion economic rescue package in an effort to stabilize the country’s households and businesses as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
Perhaps the most talked-about provision of the bill — known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — is its direct cash payments to Americans.
WPRI 12 is getting a lot of questions about how the payments will work — here’s what you need to know, based on information provided by Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s office and Republican staffers on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
So I might be getting a check?
Yes. The CARES Act includes a provision ordering “Recovery Rebates” — direct cash payments to most Americans of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for each child under age 17. (However, there are some caps to exempt higher-income households.)
Is this definitely happening?
Almost certainly. The U.S. Senate gave final passage on Wednesday night to the CARES Act and the House followed suit on Friday, sending the bill to President Trump for his signature.
As soon as that happens, the IRS will be authorized to distribute the rebate checks.
Who is eligible?
Eligibility is based on how much you made in either 2019 or 2018 (if you haven’t filed for 2019 yet), according to your IRS tax return. In most cases, as long as you are an adult American with a Social Security number who didn’t earn more than the income caps, you will get the full rebate.
There is no minimum amount you needed to make to qualify, and you did not need to owe taxes to get a rebate.
Older students or elderly adults who are claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return are not in line to receive a payment, however.
How do I figure out how much I will get?
It depends on how much you made, and whether you filed your taxes as an individual, a married couple or a head of household.
This is important: the way they calculate how much you “made” in 2019/2018 is by using your “adjusted gross income” (AGI) — not your take-home pay. Your AGI is the IRS’s calculation of your total income after various deductions.
Check your most recent tax return and it will show your AGI. That is the number that will decide if you get a rebate check, and how much you get.
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I filed my taxes as an individual. How much will I get?
If you are an individual and your AGI was $75,000 or less, you will get a full $1,200 rebate.
We filed our taxes as a married couple. How much will we get?
If you are a married couple and your AGI was $150,000 or less, you will get a full $2,400 rebate.
I filed my taxes as a head of household. How much will I get?
If you are a head of household and your AGI was $112,500 or less, you will get a full $1,200 rebate.
I made more than that amount. Will I get anything?
It depends how much more — the rebates phase out the higher you go on the income scale.
The rebates phase out if your AGI was over $99,000 for individuals; over $146,500 for head-of-household filers with one child; or over $198,000 for joint filers without children.
The rebate amount is reduced by $5 for every $100 that your AGI exceeds the base amounts ($75,000/$112,500/$150,000). So figure out the difference between that base amount and your AGI; divide it by 100; multiply that by 5; and then subtract that amount from the full rebate to find out how much you will get.
How much more do you get if you have children?
The law calls for parents to receive an extra $500 payment for each qualifying dependent child under the age of 17. (The rules are the same as those which govern the standard child tax credit.)
So a family of four with two parents and two qualifying children would receive a $3,400 check.
I didn’t owe any tax in 2018 or 2019. Do I get a rebate?
Yes. Rebates are being provided to individuals with no income or no tax liability.
I am on SSI, SSDI, veterans benefits or another similar program. Do I get a rebate?
Yes. Rebates are being provided to individuals whose income comes from untaxed benefit programs or similar sources.
My income changed substantially between 2018, 2019 and 2020. Will they take that into account?
The answer appears to be yes – but not until later.
The IRS will be using your 2018 or 2019 tax returns to determine how much to give you in the immediate payment next month, so if your income has gone down substantially, you will not immediately receive the rebate now.
However, actual final eligibility for the money will be based on your 2020 income, so you will be eligible to receive the money when you file your taxes for this year in 2021.
As Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley puts it, “the rebate is actually an advance on a tax credit that you may claim on your 2020 tax return. If your income is lower in 2020 than in 2019, any additional credit you are eligible for will be refunded or reduce your tax liability when you file your 2020 tax return next year.”
But if you are in the opposite situation — your income is higher this year than in previous years, so you wouldn’t have otherwise qualified for as much — you will not have to pay it back next year.
What do I have to do to get my rebate check?
If you filed a tax return — whether because you had income or because you qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit — you shouldn’t have to do anything.
The IRS will use your information from your 2019 (or 2018) tax return to automatically send you your payment.
If you did not file a tax return, however, you probably need to file one in order to claim your rebate. (There is discussion about the IRS working with other federal agencies to reach those people, but it’s unclear how that will work.) You may be able to file for free online here.
When will I get my payment?
The IRS hasn’t said, but U.S. Sen. Jack Reed says the agency is aiming to start distributing them in early April.
How will my payment be made?
If you have given your direct deposit information to the IRS for your standard federal rebate, the money will be direct deposited into your account.
If your direct deposit information is not on file, you may have to wait a few weeks to receive a physical check in the mail.
Is the rebate check going to be taxed?
No. The rebates are being legally structured as tax credits, so you will not owe federal taxes on the money upfront or later.
Will my rebate be reduced if I owe back taxes or a debt to the federal or state government?
In most cases, no, it will not be reduced. The exception is if you owe unpaid child support that has been reported to the U.S. Treasury Department.
I have family members who live in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Are they eligible for a rebate?
Yes, it includes residents of U.S. territories.
How much will this cost?
Congressional staffers estimate the rebates will cost the federal government $292 billion, making them just one relatively small component of the massive $2 trillion rescue bill. Other major items in the bill include expanded unemployment benefits, aid to states and hospitals, and loans for big and small businesses.
Where can I get more information?
The IRS has put up this webpage where it will provide updates on the relief checks. And Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has posted his own Q&A on the checks here.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.