Let’s take a look back at the screw-up that was the CARES package passed in March of last year:
Boeing and closely related companies asked for $60 billion in Federal stimulus money – $200 for every woman, man and child in America. This is despite having almost ruined their own business by knowingly putting passengers’ lives at risk with their disastrous 737 upgrade; the company eventually got rescued without stimulus money technically being spent. Despite having way more cash reserves than your local community college, Harvard and Yale Universities were set to receive $9 million and $7 million respectively. Both refused to accept the money, but only after a public outcry. Hospitals, an obvious opportunity to put Federal money where it can do the most good, received $175 billion. Notwithstanding their relative capacities to deal with the crisis, hospitals serving mainly insured patients somehow got more than those in poorer communities.
Reading this (and it’s not hard to think of other examples), you may well be wondering “Where is my stimulus money?”. A lot of people, in fact, are feeling betrayed by their government: that infamous $1,200 check, which is all many people received almost a year ago, is barely a drop in the bucket compared to the average household budget.
In this article, we’ll show you exactly how to get stimulus money this time around. First, however, let’s take a look at how the CARES act failed so spectacularly (if you’re only interested in the nuts and bolts of how to get covid 19 money, use the table of contents to skip ahead):
Table of Contents
- 1 Two Sides of the Coin: Corporate vs Family Welfare
- 2 Much Rhetoric, Many Missteps
- 3 How Much Stimulus Money Will I Get?
- 4 Who Is and Isn’t Eligible for $600 Stimulus Money?
- 5 When Can I Expect to Receive My Federal Stimulus Money?
- 6 How to Get Stimulus Money Owed to Me from March?
- 7 Where Can I Cash My Stimulus Check?
- 8 Will There Be a Third Round of Free Stimulus Money For Us?
Two Sides of the Coin: Corporate vs Family Welfare
As the stimulus package was being discussed, there seemed to be two basic options for jump-starting the ailing economy. The burning question is how they would be balanced:
- Give everyone who’s in the country legally some cash. They’ll then continue to buy food, diapers, Xboxes, and whatever they want, pushing more money into the economy. Of course, this would mainly benefit citizens themselves as well as companies providing basic necessities. Not a lot of people were going to buy airline or movie tickets with an infection running around.
- Give the money to large corporations as well as smaller businesses, especially those most affected by the pandemic. This serves two purposes: with their projected balance sheets in the black, their managements won’t need to lay off or furlough as many people. In addition, since the company – its physical assets, employees, management team, and business systems – is kept together, it will recover much faster post-corona, boosting both employment and economic activity once this all blows over.
Both claims have merit and each had its proponents. Multi-billionaire Elon Musk, whose companies receive large government subsidies and who personally got three times richer during the extended lockdown period, actually supported distributing money among the population rather than corporations:
Other public figures, including politicians who run on a staunchly pro-capitalist platform, favored bailing out companies. Presumably, they’d temporarily relinquished their principles for expediency – capitalism is by definition a game in which companies can lose as well as win – not least because a big-business bailout would prop up the stock market. This, one line of reasoning went, could perhaps prevent a major meltdown which would make its effects felt long after the virus itself had run its course.
The stock market not only didn’t collapse but actually recovered steadily as Fortune 500 CEOs and investors realized the money tap was wide open – for them, at least. The majority of people, who don’t have the financial or political resources of a large company behind them, were less lucky. Trickle-down economics works only in theory, and oh boy do some of us wish it had stayed there.
Much Rhetoric, Many Missteps
The devil, unsurprisingly to anyone who tries to follow Washington politics, turned out to be in the details. Money earmarked for small businesses went to their much larger competitors due to administrative confusion both inside the government and on the part of small enterprises, who can’t afford to employ many lawyers and accountants.
While Wall Street profited, individuals and families suffered, even if nobody they knew actually contracted the virus. Unless they had some savings to fall back on, even unemployment benefits, food stamps, pensions, VA benefits, and twelve hundred bucks combined weren’t nearly enough to keep them from going into debt, never mind maintaining their lifestyles. Those who already had a lot of debt were and are even worse off: instead of at least treading water, they were actually losing ground financially. In one bizarrely dystopian example, the online platform Onlyfans, which allows ordinary people to become online pornography performers in exchange for cash, saw a 75% increase in people using it simply as a way to pay their bills – and that’s just between March and April 2020.
Throughout it all, Democrats and Republicans continued blaming each other for the fallout. At times, this seemed a lot like a group of children playing “Who farted? You farted!”. The political wrangling has now finally come to a head on December 27, 2020, with the passing of the $2.3 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act. Have lessons been learned, though?
It seems likely that the December bailout is going to be a rerun of the one we had before. The IRS and postal service struggled somewhat with the task of distributing 160 million checks, direct deposits, and prepaid debit cards in March; have things improved by all that much? Will the money get to where it’s intended to go? The bill authorizing the payment is 5,600 pages long, after all, leaving a lot of room for chicanery (CARES ran to about 900). Few lawmakers could read and understand all of that, including provisions such as the one barring employees who contract covid at work from suing their employers for negligence.
There is, unfortunately, nothing you or I can do about any of this except vote once again in four years’ time. What you can do, however, is know how to get covid 19 money as painlessly as possible and to the full amount you qualify for.
How Much Stimulus Money Will I Get?
As you would expect, the amount of free stimulus money you can expect depends on your income; as reported to the IRS in 2019. The base amount is $600 per adult plus an additional $600 for each child under 17 (but not babies born in 2020, as they weren’t declared as dependents on 2019 tax returns). If no deductions apply, therefore, a family of five will receive $3,000 to tide them over. Also note that this amount is technically a tax credit and doesn’t have to be declared on your 2020 return (the one you’ll file in 2021).
This figure decreases gradually for people earning over $75,000 per year, or $150,000 combined for married couples who file their taxes jointly (or a surviving spouse), or $112,500 in the case of heads of households (as stated on their tax returns). Individuals without children earning over $87,000 and childless couples with incomes larger than $174,000 will not be given Federal stimulus money.
Don’t forget about some of the other provisions in the 2021 stimulus package, though. For one thing, unemployment benefits have been extended by an additional 11 weeks up to March 14th, 2021. In an enlightened break from the past, these are now available to people without formal, salaried employment too, including gig workers and independent contractors. Funding for childcare assistance, the food stamp program, and schools has also been boosted, so you may find that you can get sources of assistance other than the free stimulus money paid directly to you.
Who Is and Isn’t Eligible for $600 Stimulus Money?
Generally speaking, anyone with a Social Security number and an individual income of under $87,000 should receive at least some money. You don’t have to fill in a form, visit an office or call a phone number to make this happen, either: especially if you received a check in the March round of relief payments, you should get this one automatically. There are a couple of exceptions, though:
In the previous round of stimulus payouts, both parents in a family needed to have a Social Security number for either of them to qualify for the program. This has now been relaxed, and indeed retroactively for the March payments: if someone with a Green Card is married to an undocumented immigrant, they as well as their children can receive the full amount.
Less fairly, any adult who can be claimed as a dependent by a parent or guardian, whether or not they actually are described as such on any tax forms, is not supposed to receive any Federal stimulus money. A person aged 17 or 18 who still lives at home is neither counted as a child as far as their parents’ payment is concerned, nor do they qualify for their own check. The same applies to students under 24 who don’t pay half or more of their own expenses. An elderly relative living in your home, similarly, will not receive any money.
Finally, since the income information the IRS uses to draw up its list of recipients is based on 2019 earnings, people who didn’t file a return for that year may not get a check, at least not automatically. On the positive side, the IRS does consult databases from organizations like Social Security and Veteran’s Affairs in order to let fewer eligible people fall through the cracks. Anyone who this does happen to can claim their stimulus money as a “recovery rebate” tax credit in April. The same applies to people whose income fell dramatically between 2019 and 2020: one example of how tax preparers can actually save you money.
When Can I Expect to Receive My Federal Stimulus Money?
The IRS began making payments as early as December 29th. According to the law, payments cannot be processed or sent out after the 15th of January, which has ended up causing a significant administrative logjam.
Assuming that you’re eligible but don’t get sent a check (or debit card, or electronic funds transfer) by the 15th, you can only claim it as a credit on your next tax return. This will result in you getting a tax refund or owing the taxman less at some point in the future, which is of course of little comfort if you need money now. Note that the actual debit card or check won’t expire on the 15th; you don’t need to worry “where can I cash my stimulus check before midnight?” or risk picking up covid in a crowded check-cashing place.
People who’ve already registered a bank account with the IRS will, for the most part, receive their money sooner and by direct deposit. If you haven’t already, you may want to sign up for this reason alone as explained here; all you need is the account and routing number. Don’t count on doing this or updating your address working, though: both the IRS and Treasury Department are working frantically to get all the payments out, so updating their customers’ personal information is not a priority. Other people, as well as those whose banking information is outdated, will have to wait for the USPS to bring them a paper check or debit card.
If you’d like to know whether or not your stimulus money has left the (presumably massive) IRS mailroom, you can check their website. If the post office is unable to deliver your package (probably due to the IRS having outdated address information, as they are in fact not all-knowing) the envelope will be returned to them. In this case, you’re out of luck: the money will still be yours in the sense that you can claim it on your next tax return, but they will not mail you a second check after January 15th.
How to Get Stimulus Money Owed to Me from March?
When you log into the IRS “Get My Payment” portal, you’ll notice that the status of the March relief payment as well as the more recent one is displayed. Perhaps, back in the good old days of nine months ago, that amount of stimulus money wasn’t critical to your well-being: $1,200 for a single adult or $2,400 for a married couple filing jointly, plus $500 for each dependent child. Where is my stimulus money now?
You may even have forgotten to register for the Economic Impact Payment in time. Alternatively, as happened in some cases, you may have received some amount but not all of the stimulus money for which you (still) qualify. If so, take a moment to read through the following material to recover that lost cash.
Where Can I Cash My Stimulus Check?
Assuming that you don’t receive your stimulus money in your bank account or loaded onto a prepaid debit card, it will be in the form of a paper check. If you have or are about to open a bank account, converting this into usable cash is easy and free: just deposit it at the counter, take a photo of it with your banking app, or slot it into an ATM.
Plenty of Americans do not have an account at a bank, though, for reasons ranging from difficulty acquiring all the necessary documentation to simply preferring to deal only in cash. In this case, and assuming that you need your free stimulus money as soon as possible, there are a number of options open to you.
Kmart, Kroger, Walmart, Publix, and HEB Grocer will all cash a check for you, either for store credit or notes and coins. Their fees vary: be prepared to receive $1 to $6 less than the amount shown on the check. Simply ask at the service counter, but don’t forget to bring some form of photo ID with you.
Banks will do the same even if you’re not a customer with them: since these checks are issued by the government rather than an individual, there’s no chance of them bouncing. This is typically less convenient, though, and costs more than using a grocery store.
Finally, especially if you can only go to the store after business hours, neighborhood payday loan companies may be your best option. Their rates are usually competitive when it comes to government checks and they have branches all over the country. Some brands to look out for are Moneytree, Check into Cash, ACE Cash Express, and United Check Cashing. You may also have the option of loading the money onto a prepaid debit card for an extra fee: this is more convenient and safer in many ways.
Will There Be a Third Round of Free Stimulus Money For Us?
Trump publicly stated that the second stimulus check should be for $2,000 per person, though he wasn’t closely involved in those negotiations and this doesn’t seem to reflect the consensus in the Republican Party. Now with Washington D.C. shifting from red to blue, the old adage of new brooms sweeping clean comes into effect: eager to show that they can be effective and in touch with their voters’ difficulties, several Democratic leaders have committed themselves to a third stimulus check about three times as generous as the present one.
This may turn out to be nothing but talk, though; an initiative that won’t survive a reality check. Much as we’d all like a third much-needed cash injection into the foundation of the economy, the truth is that you can’t create value from nothing. Money that isn’t backed by value – gold, say, or a thriving economy – isn’t worth anything. There are only so many dollars the Federal Reserve can “print” (actually, lend out) before the currency’s value suffers. Similarly, the Federal Government can borrow money and pass it along to its citizens, but only up to a point. The national debt has shot up tremendously over the last half-decade – borrowing more certainly remains possible, but only at the risk of pushing up interest rates. If this is done past a certain point, Very Bad Things are likely to happen.
In other words, we shouldn’t get our hopes up unless we start seeing concrete proposals with real numbers attached. By the time a third, large Federal stimulus money giveaway becomes feasible, the economy may well have recovered, a lot more of us will have jobs, and a lot fewer will need government assistance just to keep their homes and health.
* * *
For sure, we live in uncertain times. Between the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a presidential administration handover that resembles a very dark Charlie Chaplin movie, continued economic uncertainty, social upheaval of all kinds, unresolved conflicts between the U.S.A and China, and political instability in various parts of the world, nobody knows what 2021 will bring. Please, let’s not say “it can’t get any worse”, that just seems like tempting fate at this point.
What is definite is that we should all be careful about how we spend our Federal stimulus money. A sudden cash infusion of a thousand or two thousand dollars, depending on your family’s size and income, may seem like a windfall. Unless you urgently need it, though, it’s best to hang on to those pennies from heaven. Many and perhaps most of us are feeling the effects of a bad year, leading to the urge to treat ourselves and our family. Stay strong, however, and remember that very few people have ever regretted saving money (or investing it cautiously) in bad times.
What are you going to do with your free stimulus money? Let’s start a conversation in the comments; all are welcome to take part.