Who's a dependent for stimulus checks: New qualifications, how to claim, 2020 babies
Dependents count for more money than before with the third stimulus payments, but not every family qualifies. Here's everything you need to know, including how new tax breaks will bring some families a bigger amount.
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Whether you got your new stimulus check or you're still waiting for your third payment, the rules that bring you $1,400 for each dependent are incredibly important for making sure you get the right amount of money (calculate your stimulus estimate). Dependents rules for stimulus checks are wildly different from the child tax credit, which is worth even more -- up to $3,600 per qualified dependent (here's how much CTC money you could get).
Your dependents qualify toward a third check, with no age restrictions
For the first and second stimulus checks, qualified dependents were defined as anyone age 16 or younger (here's how the first two checks compare with the third). Each dependent counted toward the family total, with no cap on the number of child dependents claimed. That rate was $500 for each dependent as part of the first check, approved in March 2020 as part of the CARES Act, and $600 each for the second stimulus check that was approved and sent in December.
The new American Rescue Plan earmarks $1,400 per dependent of any age, to be included in the checks of their parents or guardians. For the first time, 17-year-olds and adult dependents (anyone 18 or older) are also eligible for a payment. This group includes around 13.5 million college students, older adults, and children of all ages with certain disabilities.
Watch this: Stimulus check 3: How much money you'll get
How strict income limits disqualify families, even if they have dependents
Nonfilers may need to file a tax return to register dependents
Though many people automatically received stimulus payments for their dependents, some will need to file a 2020 tax return, per the IRS. This is because the IRS may not have all your dependents on file if you don't usually file a tax return (you're considered a nonfiler) -- for example, if you gained a new dependent in 2020 or if you had a baby. This also applies if you gained a dependent over the age of 16 or an older adult dependent.
You can use the IRS' Free File tool if you make less than $72,000 a year. Once you're on the site, select Choose an IRS Free File Offer to see a list of tax software companies you can use. The software should walk you through how to file your return and the Recovery Rebate Credit Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR for free. The IRS said it's sending "plus-up" payments to individuals and families who are eligible for a larger payment based on their 2020 tax returns, including if they have new dependents.
See more below about how gaining dependents can affect the size of your stimulus payment.
Mixed-status families: Important information you'll want to know
In addition to opening up the definition of a dependent to all ages, the $1,400 stimulus check plan also includes all mixed-status families. This means that families with noncitizen parents but US citizen children are eligible for stimulus money.
For the second check, families with one citizen parent could receive a payment, whereas the first stimulus check blocked all families with one noncitizen spouse if they filed jointly, even if they claimed a US citizen as a dependent. The same restriction applied to a noncitizen head of household who claimed a US citizen child as part of the previous tax return. Here's what to know about citizenship and stimulus checks.
An expansion to the child tax credit means millions could get even more money
One way families will get even more stimulus money (calculate your child credit total here) is through a temporary expansion of the 2020 child tax credit. Age is critical here: The new CTC rules bring the credit up to $3,600 per child under age 6, and $3,000 per child between age 6 and 17 for qualifying families.
Dependents don't receive their own stimulus checks, but they add funds to the household's total. With the third check, dependents of any age will add up to $1,400 each to the family's check. The total amount of money allocated in the third payment depends on your adjusted gross income, which you can find on your taxes.
If you added more dependents since the last time you filed taxes, will that affect the size of your check?
You can do this now, and your eligibility for the third check will remain the same. All you have to do is file your taxes -- and we recommend doing so sooner rather than later: If you get the third check before your new dependent becomes known to the IRS, the IRS will send a plus-up payment with the amount you now qualify for.
If you filed taxes in 2018 or later, you can find your dependents listed on Form 1040, US Individual Income Tax Return in the middle of the first page in a box labeled Dependents. Dependents, along with their Social Security number, relationship to you and whether they qualify for a child tax credit or credit for other dependents, will be shown there.
Do you and your spouse share custody of a dependent and file your tax returns separately?
What if you're divorced or legally separated and share custody of a child?
Here's where things can get confusing. A child can only be claimed as a dependent by one taxpayer for a tax year. Typically, the child counts as the dependent of the custodial parent -- the parent who the child lived with for a longer period of time during the year, even if financial support came from the other parent. However, this isn't always the case. Find out more from the IRS here.
One situation that cropped up with the first check are parents who aren't married, have joint custody and alternate years in which they claim each dependent child (or children) on their tax returns. In that case, both parents were eligible under the first two stimulus bills to receive the $500 per qualifying child for the first check and $600 for the second.
Are there different rules for dependents with disabilities?
With the third stimulus check, the qualification of dependents of any age now means that dependents with certain disabilities count toward the household total. For tax purposes, the IRS defines this group as "permanently and totally disabled," and these individuals also count as a child dependent on your tax return, regardless of their age. The IRS says your child falls under this category if both of the following apply:
The person isn't able to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental condition.
A doctor determines the condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for at least a year or can lead to death.
The rule has been different for stimulus checks so far. With the first two stimulus checks, children who are disabled or aged 17 years or older were not eligible for the money allotted to child dependents, unless they were aged 16 or younger on the relevant tax return used to calculate the stimulus payment. For the third check, all dependents are eligible for a payment of up to $1,400, regardless of age or disability status.
What if my dependent died since I filed taxes last?
With the first check, if a child dependent who was listed on your last tax return has since died, it's likely you will be sent the extra payment, as was the case for the first two checks. If you haven't filed a new tax return or updated your information with the IRS since then, you may still get sent a payment for them. However, a payment made to someone who died before they received it should be returned to the IRS. You also can't claim a stillborn child as a dependent, according to the IRS.
Dependents and the first two stimulus checks
The third check makes dependents of all ages, including young adults and older adults, eligible to add up to $1,400 each to your household's total. But if you're brushing up on rules for the first two payments, you'll find they're not the same.
In terms of federal tax regulations, a dependent falls into two categories: a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. They don't need to be children, or directly related to you, but they do have to meet certain requirements set out by the IRS.
To be claimed as a dependent on your
, a qualifying child must be either younger than 19 years old, or a student younger than 24 years old at the end of the calendar year. If, however, your child is what the IRS calls "permanently and totally disabled," you can claim them as a dependent no matter their age.
Even if a dependent was claimed on your tax return, only people who meet a specific definition of "child dependent" were eligible to count toward the household's money from the first round of stimulus checks due to the requirements of the CARES Act. The same was true for the second round under the December $900 billion law: The child dependent must be age 16 or under as of your 2019 tax return to qualify for any payment.