We have put together a quick breakdown of the new economic relief package that Congress recently passed, along with some general advice at the end.
What’s in the box?
The rescue package includes:1
- $600 direct payments to adults and dependent children
- An extra $300/week in unemployment benefits through at least mid-March 2021
- $325 billion in small business aid
- Vaccine distribution funding
- Food assistance for low-income households
- Emergency rental relief
Who is eligible for the stimulus payments?
It appears that lawmakers are following slightly different income limits than they used for the CARES Act. Individuals who earned less than $75,000 in 2019, heads of household earning less than $112,500, and couples earning less than $150,000 are eligible for the full $600/person payment. The payment starts phasing out after $75,000 and disappears entirely for individuals earning more than $87,000 (or couples earning over $174,000).2
While dependent children under 17 will also receive $600 each, it doesn’t appear that adult dependents like college students or elders qualify for the payments.
If your family added dependents in 2020 or you earned too much in 2019 to qualify (but would qualify in 2020), you may not receive full payments immediately but can request additional money once you file your 2020 taxes. If you qualified based on your 2019 income but your 2020 income would have reduced your payment, you won’t have to pay it back; nor will it count as taxable income.
How do I claim a stimulus payment?
Like the CARES Act payments earlier this year, the stimulus payment should end up in your bank account or arrive in the mail. If you’ve moved or changed bank accounts since you filed your taxes, you can update your address with the IRS here. It appears that you can’t update direct deposit information due to fraud risks.
While the IRS hasn’t released a timeline for sending out payments, it’s possible electronic payments could start before the end of the year. When the last round of stimulus passed, the IRS began distributing payments two weeks later; however, plenty of eligible folks still haven’t received them many months later.3
What else do I need to know?
Small business relief: Congress included another round of relief for small business owners by extending the Paycheck Protection Program with another $284 billion in forgivable loans. Some of the funds will be set aside for very small businesses, and the PPP is now available to nonprofits and local media outlets.4
An extra $20 billion has also been appropriated for Economic Injury Disaster Loans for businesses in low-income communities, and $15 billion more is earmarked for live venues, movie theaters, and cultural institutions that have been financially damaged by the pandemic.
The deal also clarifies that PPP borrowers will be able to deduct expenses paid for with forgiven loans, clearing up a potentially nasty tax issue.
Unemployment benefits: The package also extends unemployment benefits of $300/week for another 11 weeks, beginning as early as December 27 and lasting at least until March 14, 2021. A benefits program specifically for contract and gig workers that was slated to expire at the end of the year is also extended through March.
What should I do with my payment?
If you’re one of the millions of Americans struggling to stay afloat right now, please use the stimulus payment to pay for your three basics: food, shelter, and medicine. If you’re in a better place, we’d recommend paying down any high-interest debt you’ve accumulated or beefing up your emergency savings.
If you’re among the very fortunate who don’t need to shore up your finances, we’d recommend putting it toward your retirement savings, other financial goals, or investing it in yourself through a course or hobby.
Lastly, wherever there’s money, there are scammers after it. Please be on alert for “official-looking” emails asking you to open an attachment or click a link—they may contain malware. If you get a suspicious email, check the sender’s name and email address to make sure they’re not fake. When in doubt, delete the email. The IRS or Treasury department will not require you to follow emailed instructions to receive a stimulus check.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax professional.