- I’ve been answering questions about stimulus checks on Twitter, including whether former dependents are eligible.
- If you meet the qualifications, you can get the stimulus money after filing your 2020 tax return.
- This applies to both rounds of payments, totaling a maximum of $1,800 per person.
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Question: I was claimed as a dependent in 2019, but I’m filing my own tax return for 2020 — can I get a stimulus check?
Answer: Yes, as long as you meet the income requirements and have a Social Security number.
Adult dependents — including college students and retirees — were left out of the stimulus check legislation passed in March and December of 2020, but there’s a way to settle the score on your 2020 tax return. (The third stimulus check will likely be approved soon and goes to individuals with qualifying dependents of any age.)
During the initial disbursal of checks, no person over age 16 who was claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return could get a payment.
Because Congress directed the Treasury Department to use Americans’ 2019 or 2018 tax return (whichever was most recently filed) to determine eligibility, it didn’t entirely account for financial need in 2020, when the coronavirus gripped the US.
Here’s what I mean: Consider a 23-year-old who was claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax return in 2019. They graduated college in early 2020, but struggled to hold a job during the pandemic and could have used the relief check. Since the most recent return filed with the IRS listed the student as a 22-year-old dependent, their parents received no child stimulus payment (the dependent needed to be 16 or younger) and the student received no payment of their own.
I’m certain there are many versions of this scenario, but all you need to know is this: If a parent, guardian, or relative is not going to claim you as a dependent for 2020 — and legally cannot — then you can collect any missing stimulus money when you file your own tax return. You won’t get the money immediately, but it’ll be added to your refund. The IRS delivers most refunds within three weeks.
When does a student qualify as a dependent?
- They are under age 24 and enrolled full-time in college (at least five months) on the last day of the year OR they’re under age 19
- AND they provided less than 50% of their own financial support during the year (scholarships are not considered student-provided support)
How to claim a stimulus check on your 2020 taxes
A stimulus check is technically a refundable tax credit called the Recovery Rebate Credit. Both rounds of stimulus payments are combined into one credit. The third stimulus check is treated separately.
A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill. A $1,000 credit, for example, cuts your tax bill by $1,000. Some tax credits are refundable, meaning if you don’t have a tax bill large enough to use the full credit, you get the money as a refund. That’s how the recovery rebate credit works. But in order to get the credit, you have to file a federal tax return, even if your income is too low to be taxable.
Qualifications for a 1st or 2nd stimulus check:
- You have a Social Security number, or you have a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) and are married to a person with a Social Security number.
- You meet the income limits.
- You are not claimed as a dependent on another tax return for 2020.
- You file a tax return for 2020 and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit.
On your 2020 federal return, you should report the amount of stimulus (formally called Economic Impact Payment) you received. Anyone who was paid should have received Notice 1444 in the mail. The amounts are also reported on your IRS web account.
If you got anything less than the maximum amount — $1,200 for single filers or $2,400 for couples in the first round, and $600 for singles or $1,200 for couples in the second round — then your 2020 AGI will be used to determine how much credit you qualify for.
The good news: There’s no so-called clawback provision in the relief legislation. Anyone who qualified for a payment based on their 2018 or 2019 income, but doesn’t qualify based on their 2020 income because it’s too high, won’t have to pay back what they already got.
If that sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. You’ll only have to answer a few questions if you use online tax software — all the calculations will be done for you. The deadline to file your tax return is April 15, unless you get an extension but that will only prolong receipt of your stimulus money.
Tanza Loudenback, CFP®, is the personal-finance correspondent at Business Insider. She writes most frequently about saving money, planning for retirement, taxes, debt management, and strategies for building wealth. Have a money question for Tanza? Fill out this anonymous form.
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