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Older adults and third stimulus checks: Eligibility rules and what they mean for you

The IRS continues to send batches of the third stimulus check. If you're 65 or older, here's what to know about qualifications, income, SSI, SSDI and retirement, and what to do if you're still missing stimulus money from the first two checks.

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Will you get a third stimulus check? At least one rule change could affect older adults and retirees.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS is in the middle of sending the next wave of third stimulus payments to those who are eligible for the payment. And if you're age 65 or older, you receive Social Security benefits or you're a veteran, you will likely receive a $1,400 check (track your payment here). It may be different, however, for individuals with "high" income levels from investments or other sources. 

The total amount of this third check also depends on how many dependents you're claiming this year (if any), or if you're claimed as a dependent on someone else's taxes. Tax season may also be a deciding factor this time if you filed a tax return in early 2021 and it's already been processed by the IRS.

We'll explain everything that could affect your third stimulus payment -- from filing your federal taxes this year to your adjusted gross income, pension and Social Security benefits, as well as if someone counts you as an adult dependent on their taxes. Also, if you're still missing money from the first or second checks, you'll need to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 taxes, even if you don't usually file them. This story has been updated recently.

Who does the IRS categorize as an older adult?

Anyone aged 65 or older at the end of 2020 is considered a senior adult on their taxes that year and beyond. (If you have questions about citizenship requirements, see more below.) The IRS notes you are considered age 65 on the day before your 65th birthday.

How do I know if I'm eligible for a third stimulus payment?

For the first and second stimulus checks, whether you were eligible for any stimulus money (and if you were, how much money you could receive) depended on whether you were considered a dependent and the amount of your AGI from your federal tax filing. Your AGI is your gross income minus any eligible adjustments that you may qualify for.  Since the tax deadline has been extended to May 17, the IRS is likely to use your 2019 tax return, if you file taxes.

(Find out everything you need to know about how your taxes affect your stimulus payment here.)

If you have a pension or investments that are taxable, those will affect your AGI, and therefore your eligibility for a stimulus check. The same is true for interest from a bank account. Interest from tax-exempt bonds isn't included in your AGI, however, so it wouldn't affect your stimulus payment eligibility. 

For the third stimulus check, some of the eligibility rules changed in the final version of the bill -- read on for more, and use our third stimulus check calculator to see if you qualify based on income limits. Here are stimulus calculators for the first and second checks, respectively.

Now playing: Watch this: Stimulus check 3: How much money you'll get
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If I'm eligible for a third payment, how much money will I get?

There are several ways that qualifications change with a third stimulus check. The new law includes a payment of up to $1,400 for all dependents, no matter their age, to be added on to the household's total. That means if you support an adult dependent -- a college student, for example -- you may be able to get a larger stimulus payment this round. 

The expansion will provide money to households on behalf of an estimated 13.5 million adult dependents, according to the People's Policy Project.

The new bill also loops in families with "mixed-status" citizenship, where members have different immigration statuses. Both of these groups were left out of the first and second stimulus payments.

One thing to note: The third check is more "targeted." That means single filers who earn less than $75,000 will be eligible for the full $1,400. But those who earn $80,000 or more per year will not be eligible to receive a third payment at all. There are other ways some households can get more money with the next stimulus payment

SSI or SSDI beneficiaries: Are you eligible for the third stimulus check?

If you're over age 65 and a recipient of Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you were eligible for a first and second stimulus check, and will be eligible for a third. This also includes many VA recipients and Retired Railroad Workers.

Social Security recipients are now getting their stimulus checks, the IRS said, but those receiving VA benefits may have a few weeks to go.

Find out everything else you need to know about how SSI and SSDI impact stimulus checks here

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If you count as someone else's dependent, you may be eligible for stimulus money in the potential third round of checks.

Angela Lang/CNET

What's a gross income, and where can I find mine? 

Your gross income (again, this differs from your AGI) includes income from selling your main home and gains (but not losses) reported on Form 8949 or Schedule D and from sources outside the US. 

Your gross income doesn't include any Social Security benefits unless:

  • You're married but filing separately and lived with your spouse at some point in 2019.
  • Half your Social Security benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest is more than $25,000 filing single (or $32,000 if married, filing jointly). 

If either of those is the case for you, you can check out the Instructions for Forms 1040 and 1040-SR or Pub. 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits to figure the taxable part of Social Security benefits you must include in gross income.

Read more: Best tax software for 2021: TurboTax, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and more compared

Can I get a stimulus payment if someone claims me as an adult dependent on their tax return?

Some older people may count as a dependent on someone else's taxes, called a "qualifying relative." For example, you may live with your children. In terms of stimulus check qualifications, the main tax filer would've had to claim you as a dependent on their tax form 1040. 

A qualifying relative can be any age. To be counted as a qualifying relative on someone's tax return, the person must meet four criteria. They... 

  • Don't count as a qualifying child dependent.
  • Live with the family member all year as a member of the household, or count as a relative who doesn't have to live with the family member all year (such as a parent or grandparent, a stepparent or a sibling).
  • Must have a gross income for the year of less than $4,200.
  • Must have more than half of their support during the year come from the family member.

If you were a dependent on someone else's taxes and were over the age of 16, you weren't qualified for any stimulus money at all in the first or second round of stimulus checks. The new law, however, allows dependents of all ages to be eligible to add up to $1,400 to the household's total payment

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There are a few reasons why some older adults may not have gotten a first or second stimulus check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm a nonfiler. Do I have to file taxes this year to receive my stimulus money?

nonfiler is a person who isn't required to pay taxes to the IRS during tax season. The requirement to file a tax return depends on your gross income, which is all income you receive in the form of money, goods, property and services that aren't tax-exempt (more below).

People who are considered nonfilers don't need to do anything to receive a third stimulus check, according to the IRS. However, if you're claiming missing stimulus money in a Recovery Rebate Credit, even nonfilers will have to file a tax return this year. You may be able to use a special form and file for free. You will, however, need some specific information.

If you're age 65 or older, you should file taxes under the following circumstances:

  • Single filer with at least $13,850 in gross income.
  • Head of household with at least $20,000 in gross income.
  • Married filing jointly (if one spouse is 65 or older, $25,700 in gross income; if both spouses are 65 or older, $27,000 in gross income).
  • Married filing separately (any age).
  • Qualifying widow(er) age 65 or older with at least $25,700 in gross income.

In the 2019 tax year, the IRS introduced Form 1040-SR, US Tax Return for Seniors. This form is basically the same as Form 1040, but has larger text and some helpful information for older taxpayers. 

I'm not a US citizen, but I pay taxes. Can I get a third stimulus check?

Under the December stimulus bill, non-US citizens, including those who pay taxes, weren't eligible to receive the $600 payment, unlike with the first round of checks. Under the CARES Act of March 2020, all US citizens and non-US citizens with a Social Security number who live and work in America were eligible to receive stimulus payments. That included people the IRS refers to as "resident aliens," green card holders and workers using visas such as H-1B and H-2A. 

If your citizenship status has changed since you first got a Social Security number, you may have to update the IRS' records to get your check. US citizens living abroad were also eligible for a first payment. 

For the third payment, the new law includes checks for "mixed-status" citizenship families -- families with members with different immigration statuses -- who were left out of the first two checks.

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What counts as income? That depends on your personal circumstances.

Angela Lang/CNET

I never got the money I was owed from the first or second stimulus payments. Can I claim it on my taxes? 

Now that it's tax season, if you haven't received your first or second check by now, you'll likely need to claim a missing payment using the Recovery Rebate Credit -- that includes people who don't usually file taxes, too. 

If you use the Recovery Rebate Credit, your stimulus allotment will either be bundled with your tax refund or you'll pay less tax. We recommend filing your taxes as early as possible (here's why) and registering your bank account for direct deposit with the IRS.

I'm over 65 and have dependents. What if I never got a payment for them with the first two payments?

If you're age 65 or older and have a child dependent age 16 or younger who qualified for an extra $500 under the CARES Act, or an extra $600 under the December stimulus bill, you'll have to claim your stimulus payment on behalf of eligible dependents as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

For more, check out what we know so far about a third stimulus check and when the IRS might send your new payment out. Here's what we know about the possibility of a fourth stimulus check.