A guide to coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus checks

Everything you need to know about your payment

Derek Silva


Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Senior Editor & Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

Updated April 28, 2020 | 9 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

Key Takeaways

  • The economic impact payments are worth $1,200 for each eligible adult, plus $500 per child

  • The payment phases out for single filers with more than $75,000 of income, joint filers with more than $150,000 and heads of household with more than $112,500

  • Your income is the AGI on your 2019 federal tax return (or 2018 if you didn’t file for 2019)

  • The IRS will send payments to whatever bank account was on your 2019 (or 2018) tax return

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The act contains provisions to help U.S. workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and includes payments of $1,200 for many adults ($2,400 for married couples with a joint tax return), plus $500 for each eligible child. The Treasury Department is calling these economic impact payments, but the act itself calls them recovery rebates and many people refer to them as stimulus checks.

To qualify for a payment, you need to have a Social Security number, you need to meet certain income thresholds, and you generally must have filed a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019. The exception is that anyone who received Social Security benefits, but who didn’t otherwise have to file a return, doesn’t have to file in order to get a stimulus check payment.

The first payments arrived on April 10, with the IRS saying most people should get their payment by April 17 if they opted for direct deposit. Your payment will be sent to the most recent bank account the IRS has on file for you. If you haven’t filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes, make sure to file as soon as possible so that the IRS has your most recent information. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it’s possible there will be more payments, so update your information with the IRS even if you don’t think you qualify for this round of payments.

If you have further questions about whether you qualify for a payment or how much you should receive, the IRS website has more information.

How much is the stimulus check?

The maximum payment is $1,200 per eligible adult, with joint filers getting a maximum of $2,400. If you’re eligible to receive a payment and have children, you will also receive a payment of $500 per child.

Can I get the $500 for all dependents?

The additional $500 payment is only for children. If you claim a non-child dependent, like a parent you care for, you cannot get the payment for them. Dependents also aren’t eligible to receive a payment themselves, even if they’re adults.

Also, remember that your payment is based on the taxes you just filed this year, so you won’t get anything for a child who you didn’t claim on your tax return. Children born in 2020 will not qualify for the payment. If you didn’t file yet this year, the IRS will use your return from last year (2018 income taxes), so any children born in 2019 wouldn’t qualify. If you had a child in 2019, make sure to file your taxes as soon as possible.

Our guide on dependents explains which children qualify as dependents.

What if I’m a head of household?

The maximum payment is $1,200 whether your filing status is single or head of household. However, there are different income limits for each filing status, so a head of household can earn more money and still qualify for the maximum stimulus check.

Who qualifies for a stimulus check?

First, your income needs to fall below certain income limits. (There is no minimum income requirement.) Specifically, the IRS will look at your adjusted gross income (AGI). You need to have a Social Security number, whether or not you're a citizen, and you generally need to have filed a federal tax return in 2020 (for your 2019 taxes) or last year (for your 2018 taxes). For joint filers to qualify, both spouses must have a valid Social Security number.

Income limits for stimulus checks

Maximum income for full paymentMaximum income for partial payment
Single filer$75,000$99,000
Joint filer$150,000$198,000
Head of household$112,500$136,500
  • Single filers qualify for the maximum payment with an AGI of $75,000 or less, and they can get a partial payment if their AGI is $99,000 or less. If your filing status is single, you’re not eligible for any payment if you earned more than $99,000. These limits also apply if you're married filing separately.

  • Joint filers and qualified widow(er)s qualify for the maximum payment with AGI of $150,000 or less, with a partial payment if their AGI is $198,000 or less. If your filing status is married filing jointly, you’re not eligible for any payment if you earned more than $198,000.

  • Heads of household can qualify for a maximum payment with AGI of $112,500 or less, and they can get a partial payment if their AGI is $136,500 or less. Heads of household are not eligible for any payment if they earned more than $136,500.

Do I need to file taxes to get my stimulus check?

Maybe. If you already filed your taxes this year, you’re all set. If you haven’t filed yet this year but did file your taxes last year, the IRS will use your information from last year’s tax return. (You should still file this year’s taxes as soon as you can.)

Anyone who didn't file a tax return last year and doesn't need to file one this year, but qualifies for a stimulus payment based on their income, should use the non-filers online portal from the IRS. (Social Security beneficiaries are an exception, as explained in the next section.) To use the online portal, you need to create a login account and enter your personal information, including your Social Security number and bank account information for direct deposit. You can also enter information for children you're claiming.

For help with your tax return, try our guide to filing taxes.

What if I get Social Security benefits but don’t file a return?

You can still get a payment if you didn’t file a tax return but you did receive Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099. This covers seniors, recipients of Social Security benefits, recipients of railroad retirement benefits, and people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The payment should go straight to your account if you use direct deposit.

However, 1099 forms do not contain information on dependents, so if you didn’t file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and if you want to claim the $500 payment for a child, you would have needed to use the non-filers portal by April 22, 2020. If you missed that deadline, you won’t be able to receive the $500 payment until you file your taxes in early 2021.

Recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and VA benefits will also get their payments automatically, but cannot get the $500 child credit unless they use the IRS non-filers portal (linked in the previous section) by May 5, 2020.

When will I get my stimulus check?

The first round of payments went out on April 10, 2020, and most people getting direct deposit payments should have received them by April 17. However, it has taken longer for some individuals to receive payments, even if they used direct deposit. Your payment could take longer if you haven't yet filed you 2019 taxes or if you used a tax-filing service and elected for it to automatically remove a payment from your refund.

If you want to check the status of your payment, the IRS has created the Get My Payment online app. This app will also tell you the bank account your payment is going to.

For recipients of Social Security benefits, RRB benefits, and SSDI, payments started arriving during the week of April 27, 2020. For SSI beneficiaries and VA recipients who receive Compensation and Pension (C&P) benefits, payments are scheduled to being in mid-May.

The Treasury hopes to mail paper checks starting in April, but it may take several months for you to receive your check. If possible, consider switching to a direct deposit payment, by using the Get My Payment app.

How will I receive my payment?

The IRS will send your payment the same way you received your last tax refund. So if you opted for direct deposit, your stimulus payment will be deposited into the same bank account. If you opted for a paper check, you will get a paper check sent to the same address. If you didn’t file your taxes yet this year, the IRS will use the bank account information from last year’s taxes (your 2018 income taxes).

If you received Social Security benefits, RRB benefits, SSDI, SSI, or VA benefits, the IRS will send your payment through the same method as your normal benefit payments.

Note that you can receive a stimulus payment on your Direct Express debit card. However, if you have a child and use the IRS non-filers portal to get the additional payment for your child, you will not be able to receive the payments on your debit card. You will need to either enter your bank account information for direct deposit or get a paper check.

What if my bank account or address has changed?

If you need to file a tax return this year but haven’t done so yet, make sure to file as soon as possible so the IRS has your most recent information. If you already filed but your information has since changed, use the Get My Payment app from the IRS. It will allow you to check what bank account your payment is going to, and to change your account information if necessary.

You can also use the portal if you previously received a paper check, but would like your economic impact payment direct deposited into your bank account.

How stimulus checks will affect next year’s taxes

For the most part, your 2021 tax return (which will cover your 2020 taxes) won’t change very much because of your stimulus check. There are some other ways your taxes may change next year, though. Learn more about how coronavirus will affect your taxes.

Is the payment taxable income?

No, your stimulus check is not taxable income. Your payment will be treated as a tax credit on your return. If you don’t get the full credit now but end up qualifying based on your 2020 income, you’ll get the credit after you file your tax return. Your payment also won’t affect any other benefits you receive, like SSI or Medicaid.

Read more: How tax credits work

What if I owe tax debt?

If you have state or federal tax debt, including if you're currently on a payment plan with the IRS, you will still get your stimulus check. The CARES Act states that your payment will not be seized by the IRS to pay tax debt. The only exception is that your payment will be reduced by past-due child support.

What if my income changes after I get my payment?

Your economic impact payment is based on last year’s tax return, so it won’t be affected by your 2020 income. If you get the full payment now but then your final 2020 income is greater than the income threshold, you will not have to pay anything back. You also don't have to pay anything back if you get the $500 child credit, but the child is no longer your dependent in 2020.

If you don’t qualify to receive a payment based on your 2019 income, but then your 2020 income ends up below the thresholds, you should be able to receive the payment as a credit when you file your 2020 taxes.

Is this just an advance on next year’s refund?

Many people have asked this question, and the answer is technically yes. But on your taxes next year, you will get your regular tax refund just as you normally do (assuming you would normally get a refund). To make this stimulus check work within the current tax system, it’s set up as a refundable tax credit that makes an advance payment. So instead of getting the refund payment from the credit next year in addition to your regular refund, you’re getting the payment now. That doesn’t mean you’re getting less refund; it means you’re getting part of your refund a year early.

This payment structure is similar to the advance premiums tax credit (APTC), which reimburses some lower-income taxpayers for their health insurance premiums.