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Stimulus checks for older adults: Rules for retired people, income, SSI, veterans, more

Many older Americans who were eligible for the first stimulus check in 2020 should also qualify to receive the second payment. Here's everything to know about income, SSI and retirement.

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We now know all the rules for a second stimulus check. Here's what you'll want to know.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Second stimulus check delivery has come to an end as the IRS met its deadline to finish sending payments. And if you qualified for another payment, you should have received yours through direct deposit or it could still be on the way as an EIP card or paper check (here's how to track it right to your mailbox). And if you didn't receive a payment yet, your new stimulus check money could arrive after you claim an IRS rebate credit during tax season. Or you might need to request an IRS payment trace.

With so much complication upfront, have the rules for retired people, veterans and older adults changed? And what do you do if you're a nonfiler, but didn't get your check? We can help address the big questions that could affect the amount of money you're owed. For example, when determining how much of the $600 payment you'll receive, the IRS and Treasury Department consider your age, tax filingsadjusted gross income, pension, Social Security benefits (SSI, SSDI) and whether you count as someone else's adult dependent

We'll explain more below. Here's everything we know right now about a third stimulus check, including what the timeline could be for it to come, how much money your household could get and every way people could receive more money than before. This story was recently updated.

Am I considered a senior citizen or an older adult by the IRS?

Anyone age 65 or older at the end of 2019 is considered a senior adult on their taxes that year and beyond. (If you have questions about citizenship requirements, see more below.)

Am I eligible for a second stimulus check?

Whether you're eligible for a second stimulus check (and if you are, how much money you could receive) depends on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing. 

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. However, interest from tax-exempt bonds is not included in your AGI, so wouldn't affect your stimulus payment eligibility. 

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How can I find out if my second stimulus check has been sent?

There are two ways to monitor whether you've gotten your stimulus money -- and we don't mean incessantly checking your bank account balance. 

  • The IRS has now reopened its Get My Payment online portal so you can track your stimulus payment  to see if it was sent, or if it wasn't, when it's scheduled to come your way. 
  • If you think you're receiving a paper check or EIP card, you can use a free USPS tool to see when the envelope containing your second stimulus check is scanned at the post office and actually delivered to your mailbox.

What if I didn't get my first or second stimulus check? Is there anything I can do?

If you're age 65 or older and qualified for a first stimulus check under the March CARES Act, but you didn't receive one, you can track the status of your missing payment by visiting the IRS Get My Payment webpage, or try contacting the IRS by phone. 

In some cases, you may need to take an extra step to claim the payment from the IRS. The Nov. 21 deadline to get a catch-up check in 2020 has passed, but you'll still be able to file a claim during this year's tax season. If you qualify for the second payment but don't receive it by the middle of January, you can claim your payment on your taxes this year.

What are all the different rules with this second stimulus payment?

Qualifications for the second stimulus check remain largely the same for older adults as with the first check, but there are a few differences, and some people won't qualify for the second stimulus check even if they got the first one. With the current stimulus package, you'll get up to $600 for each child dependent. Those who count as dependents on someone else's taxes, however, are not eligible for additional money under the new stimulus package -- this includes older adult dependents. 

For older adults and retired people, your tax filings, your AGI, your pension and your SSDI program will affect your second payment if you're qualified. 

How could a third stimulus check change the rules?

President-elect Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that he says is one of his top priorities for his new, Democrat-majority Congress. It would contain a $1,400 third stimulus check, but also change a notable rule that could affect older adults and their families. Biden's proposal would open up the supplemental allowance for children under 17 years old to dependents of any age. With the first check, that was $500 per dependent, and with the second check, that was $600.

The move, if approved, would provide money to households on behalf of an estimated 13.5 million adult dependents, according to the People's Policy Project.

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If you count as someone else's dependent, you weren't eligible for any stimulus money under the CARES Act. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Does receiving SSI or SSDI affect whether I'm eligible for a payment? 

If you are over age 65 and a recipient of Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you were eligible for a first stimulus check, and will also be eligible for a second check. Find out everything you need to know about how SSI and SSDI impact stimulus checks here

Am I required to file a tax return, or am I a nonfiler?

A nonfiler is a person who is not 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). For 2019, the standard deduction amount for single filers was $12,200. 

Your gross income is different from your adjusted gross income, or AGI, which is your gross income minus any eligible adjustments that you may qualify for. (Find out everything you need to know about how your taxes impact your stimulus payment here.)

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, $5)
  • 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. 

Where can I find my gross income? 

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

Your gross income does not include any social security benefits, unless:

  • You are married but filing separated, and lived with your spouse at some point in 2019.
  • Half of 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.

How do I know if I'm counted as a dependent on someone else's taxes? 

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 qualifying for a potential second stimulus check, the main tax filer would have had to claim you as a dependent on their tax form 1040 in 2019. 

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There are a few reasons why some seniors may not have gotten a first stimulus check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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: 

  • Do not count as a qualifying child dependent
  • Live with the family member all year as a member of their household, or count as a relative who does not have to live with you all year (such as a parent or grandparent, a stepparent, or a sibling) 
  • Have a gross income for the year of less than $4,200
  • Have more than half of your support during the year come from that family member

If you were a dependent on someone else's taxes and were over the age of 16, you were not qualified for any stimulus money at all in the first round of stimulus checks. 

Am I eligible for a stimulus payment if I'm not a US citizen but pay taxes? 

Under the new stimulus bill, non-US citizens, including those who pay taxes, are not eligible to receive the $600 payment, unlike with the first round of checks. Under the CARES Act, 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 includes people who the IRS refers to as "resident aliens," green card holders and workers using visas such as H-1B and H-2A. 

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

Angela Lang/CNET

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

What if you're over age 65 with dependents but didn't get the additional $500 with the first payment?

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, you could have used the IRS nonfilers tool by Sept. 30 to claim that money. If you missed that deadline, you'll have to wait this tax season to claim your stimulus payment on behalf of eligible dependents. However, the IRS has said that you shouldn't use the tool yet if you still plan on filing a 2019 tax return (for instance, if you filed for an Oct. 15 extension), as it will slow down the process.

Did older adults qualify for the first round of stimulus checks? 

And what about veterans, dependents and members of SSI and SSDI programs? 

Yes to all, with caveats. Social Security recipients and retired railroad workers who were not required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 were eligible for the first stimulus payment, and were not required to file a tax return to get their check, according to the IRS. The payments were based on information contained in their 1099 benefit statements, with no additional paperwork required. 

Supplemental Security Income recipients without dependent children should have received stimulus payments automatically, without having to file any additional paperwork as well. The same is true for people who receive Compensation and Pensions benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

People who are part of the Social Security Disability Insurance program who were not required to file tax returns for 2018 or 2019 should also have automatically received a first stimulus payment. (Find out more about how SSDI impacts stimulus payments here.) 

However, older people who were claimed as a dependent on 2019 tax forms were not eligible for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. But if a second check is approved, it's likely that the main tax filer would get extra money for these dependents (read more below). 

I was eligible for the first stimulus check, so why didn't I get it?

There are several possible reasons that you may not have received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center:

The IRS did not have enough information to decide on your eligibility. If you receive Social Security retirement, SSDI, survivor benefits, SSI, Veterans Affairs Compensation and Pension benefits or Railroad Retirement benefits and did not automatically get a payment by check, direct deposit or EIP card, you needed to fill out a form in the online IRS nonfilers tool by Oct. 15. Otherwise, you'll have to file a tax return for 2020 and select Recovery Rebate Credit to get your check. 

If you can't submit the information online using the tool, you can still use the site to enter the required information and then print and mail the document to the IRS. Write "EIP 2020" at the top of the printed document.

This may have happened if you became a US citizen or received your green card since you first got a social security number. To qualify for a check, you must have the correct type of Social Security number that authorizes you to work in the US, Holtzblatt said. If your citizenship status changed and you didn't inform SSA, the IRS's records would not be up to date. 

You owe child support. In some cases, you may not have received your payment (or the full amount) because you owe child support. Under certain circumstances, the Treasury Department reduces government payments by the amount of child support owed. (Read more about how child support impacts stimulus payments here.)

You had a bank overdraft or lien. In some cases, the full stimulus payment was directly deposited into your bank account, but the bank may have withheld all or a portion of it because of an overdraft or a lien from a third party. If you suspect this is the case, you should contact your bank. 

For more information about stimulus payments, here's how fast the IRS could send out a second stimulus payment if it passes. And if you still haven't received your stimulus check and you think it's lost or missing, try this IRS phone number to file a report.