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ask the taxgirl

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Taxpayer asks:

My stimulus check is wrong. How can I fix it? I tried calling the IRS but couldn’t get anyone on the phone.

Taxgirl says:

The short answer is that you can’t immediately fix it. Even if you could get someone on the phone, the advice will be the same: you’ll have to wait. Specifically, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says on its website, “The IRS is not able to correct or issue additional payments at this time.”


There is some good news. You can fix it eventually. You will be able to claim the additional amount – either the missing $500 for a child or an adjustment because of your income – when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021. You’ll want to hang on to Notice 1444, Your Economic Impact Payment (you should receive it about two weeks after you receive your check) so that you’ll know how much to claim when it comes time to file.

(And yes, there has been some chatter about a fall fix, but so far, that’s not in the cards.)

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

How can I change my address with the IRS?

Taxgirl says:

The easiest way to change your address if there’s no time consideration is just to use your new address when you file your tax return. But if you filed a joint tax return and you and your ex now have separate addresses, each of you should notify the IRS of your separate address when you file.

If you move after filing your return, use Form 8822, Change of Address to notify the IRS of your new address. The form is easy to use – just download it from the IRS website or use the link above – but if you don’t want to use the form, the IRS allows you to submit a written statement. Mail a signed statement with your full name and Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), together with your old address and your new address to the address where you filed your last return. If you filed a joint return and you both still live together, include both names, SSNs (or ITINs), and signatures on the form or statement.

Keep in mind that the IRS isn’t fully open right now, so paper forms and statements can take a while to process.

The IRS says that you can also advise them of an address change over the phone. I’m a big fan of paper trails, so I don’t love this option – even if you could get through on the phone – but be aware that it is an option.

Finally, you can change your address with the US Postal Service to make sure your mail – including your stimulus check – gets to you. But that’s not a permanent solution – don’t forget to change it with the IRS, too!

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

What should you do if both parents who are not married but take turns filing the child every other year both got credit ($500) for the child? 

Taxgirl says:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says to do nothing (FAQ #30). There is no clawback provision in the CARES Act, so math error in your favor.

That said, each parent should receive a letter from the IRS (Notice 1444, Your Economic Impact Payment) within 15 days after the payment is made. The IRS advises you to keep the notices for your 2020 tax records.

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

My child’s fathers stimulus payment had gotten taken due to child support, how long does it take for me to receive it?

Taxgirl says:

It depends. Here’s how the process works.

  1. Once a stimulus check is seized, it does not automatically get delivered to the person who is owed the child support. The check is intercepted, it is not simply mailed or deposited to the person who is owed child support.
  2. The state that submitted the case to the offset program typically receives money from the offset within two to three weeks.
  3. The money is then disbursed according to normal child support enforcement distribution rules that apply. That means, for example, that if the parent who expects to receive the money (which has been offset from a parent who owes child support) owes money to the state for reimbursement of public assistance, the stimulus payment will be paid to that debt first, and then debt owed to the parent will be paid next.

The timeframe for all of this can vary. Count on at least two to three weeks from the initial disbursement at a minimum. But if the offset is from a jointly filed tax return, the state may hold the funds for up to six months before it’s distributed. 

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

Last year I converted an IRA to ROTH and thus exceeded the income limit – otherwise I would have qualified. Is there a legal way around this?

Taxgirl says:

Not for last year. But remember that the stimulus checks are based on a temporary, refundable tax credit for 2020. If your income will be less this year and you otherwise qualify for the credit, you will be able to claim the additional amount when you file your 2020 tax return.  

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

How do I sign up for the second stimulus check?

Taxgirl says:

Grr. There is no second stimulus check.

Here’s the thing. There has been some discussion about a second stimulus check. And it was even included in the HEROES Act which passed in the House but has not even been considered in the Senate. It’s just a bill for now.

Unfortunately, some writers know that folks are desperate for more stimulus payments. And those writers like the clicks that they get for suggesting that there might be another check coming any day now. Only it’s not true. No matter how many headlines that you read that suggest otherwise: there is no official plan to issue a second round of stimulus checks.

(And if you’re angry about the misleading headlines and you want to make them stop, don’t click on them.)

When and if a second round of stimulus checks becomes a reality, you can find details from trusted sources. And, both Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will make announcements.

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

Hello,

My stepdaughter received her $1,200 payment from the Federal government, however, she has not received anything for her minor child, who was included on both her 2018 and 2019 tax returns.

Have you heard of anything regarding parents receiving separate or delayed payments for their children?

Taxgirl says:

Yes. This has been a consistent gripe from parents. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has offered some explanations for non-filers (you can read about them here). Since those didn’t apply to all filers, the IRS again tackled this subject, offering some reasons why your payment might be less than expected (you can read about them here).

But for many of my readers, those explanations haven’t helped: the $500 stimulus payment for dependents appears to have simply been overlooked.

In that case, the IRS offers: 

If you did not receive the full amount to which you believe you are entitled, you will be able to claim the additional amount when you file your 2020 tax return.  This is particularly important for individuals who may be entitled to the additional $500 per qualifying child payments.

So, something of an answer. For many taxpayers, this is a hardship. As a result, the National Taxpayer Advocate is actively encouraging the IRS to continue to evaluate the possibility of making a separate payment of EIP child benefits to qualifying individuals this year. But so far, that’s not the case.

I’ll update if I hear more.

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

Taxpayer asks:

If I am on SSDI but I owe child support, will I still receive a stimulus check?

Taxgirl says:

Typically, certain Social Security benefits, including SSDI or SSI, are exempt from garnishment from most creditors. There are a few exceptions, and one of them is – you guessed it – the federal government. 

If you are collecting SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits, the federal government can garnish your benefits to recover back taxes or defaulted federal student loan payments. Your SSDI and Social Security retirement benefits can also be garnished for child support. Limits apply in those cases.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The CARES Act specifically says that Economic Impact Payments (EIPs or stimulus checks) can only be used as an offset for child support, and not for other obligations like back taxes or student loans. (You can read more about child support garnishes here.)

So, if you receive SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits, but you owe child support, the IRS may offset your check. That’s pretty clear.

Here’s where it’s less clear. If you receive SSI benefits, your SSI payment typically cannot be seized to satisfy existing obligations – including child support. However, your stimulus check is not considered an SSI benefit: it is a refundable tax credit. That means it should not fall under the exception. So while the IRS has not made an official comment on this issue, I believe the IRS will offset stimulus checks to SSI benefit recipients for child support. Readers have reported that to be the case, and that’s the logical conclusion – but this program, to date, hasn’t been very logical.

It’s worth noting that once the EIP payment has hit your bank account, it is no longer protected, and can be seized by creditors.

Before you go: be sure to read my disclaimer. Remember, I’m a lawyer and we love disclaimers.
If you have a question, here’s how to Ask The Taxgirl.

(Updated: April 20, 2020)

Last month, I wrote a primer on stimulus checks, and I’ve been updating it as I field your questions: thanks for asking!

I thought it might be helpful to tackle some of the most commonly asked questions in a separate article. Here’s what you’ve been asking – along with my answers – regarding those tax stimulus checks.

How big will my check be? Checks will be $1,200 per adult – or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly – and an additional $500 per child.

But I didn’t work last year – or I am a senior on a reduced income – I thought I was left out? Or that I got a smaller amount, like $600? No. One of the original Senate proposals did include language that would limit checks for low-income Americans to earned income or $600. This is no longer the case. There is no minimum income needed to qualify for a check.

But if I don’t normally file taxes, how do I get a check? You may need to register with the IRS to get your check using the Non-Filer Tool on the IRS website.

Are there income limits on checks? The amount of the checks would start to phaseout for those earning more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns and $112,500 for heads of household) and are subject to phaseouts (more on those here). This is adjusted gross income (AGI), not taxable income – so before your standard or itemized deductions. You’ll see your number on line 8(b) of your form 1040:

As a senior citizen, my only source of income is Social Security benefits, so I haven’t filed taxes for 2018 or 2019. I read that to receive the stimulus money, I must file 2019 taxes. Is that true? The short answer is no, you don’t have to file a return.

What about SSDI benefits? According to the IRS, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients don’t need to take additional action: your check will be direct deposited (or you’ll get a paper check) just as you’d normally get your benefits.

What about SSI or VA benefits? A group of 45 Senators reached out to request that Treasury provide stimulus payments automatically to recipients of benefits through the Veterans Administration or the Supplemental Security Income program, without requiring them to file a tax return. That is now the case.

What about Social Security, Railroad retirees, and SSDI beneficiaries who have qualifying children? You can take an additional step to receive $500 per qualifying child.

You wrote that I couldn’t get a check for my child who is in college because of his age, even though I claimed him as a dependent. He works. Can he get his own check? Not if your child is a dependent (you can read more here). There is a suggested fix in the works to change this, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen in time.

My mom is a senior citizen, and I claim her as a dependent. Can I get a check for her? Unfortunately, no. For purposes of getting the extra $500, the bill uses the same definition as you’d use for the child tax credit. The sticking point for most is age: the child must be under age 17 at the end of the tax year. That means you do not get $500 for a child above the age of 16, even if they live with you and eat your food and spend your money and sleep in your house. The same is true for adults.

Okay, if I can’t get the $500 for my mom since I claim her as a dependent, can she get a check? Not if she is a dependent.

I made more money in 2019 than in 2018. Can I wait to file my 2019 return? Of course! Remember that filing and payment dates have been automatically extended for federal income tax returns to July 15, 2020.

I’ve already filed my 2018 and my 2019 tax returns. Is there an office I can contact to make an appeal to have the decision made on my 2018 return and not 2019 return? I’d be shocked if you could reach anyone at IRS right now, and there’s no mechanism for an appeal so far as I know – and an appeal would be contrary to the language in the Act. Since the credit is technically based on your 2020 return (which hasn’t been filed yet, which is why they are looking at 2019), if you qualify for the 2020 tax year, you can still apply for it in 2021. All is not lost!

I had a kid in 2020. Will I get a check for my child in 2020? Probably not in 2020 since the IRS doesn’t know about your new delivery. But again, since the credit is technically based on your 2020 return, you should be able to adjust to account for the new baby in 2021.

My income is going to be higher in 2020, but I got my check based on my 2019 income, which was lower. Do I have to pay it back? There is no clawback provision in the law, so it should be treated as a math error in your favor if you got too much. You don’t have to pay it back.

Is my check taxable? No. This is not taxable income.

Are you sure it’s not taxable? What about messing up my benefits? Or my FAFSA? Yep, sure it’s not taxable. It won’t boost your income and won’t affect your benefits.

Are you sure that I don’t have to pay it back? I read that somewhere that it’s an advance and I do have to pay it back. Or that it will reduce my refund. You will not have to pay it back. It is an advance, but it’s an advance of a new, temporary credit for 2020. It will not affect your “normal” refund in 2020. The only folks who should see a difference are those who didn’t get the advance this year but were due one – they’ll get more since they’ll get the credit in 2021 (for the 2020 tax year).

When will I get my check? Checks are supposed to be produced “as rapidly as possible.” Checks went out the week of April 12, 2020. If you use direct deposit, you’ll get your money faster.

I’ve read that some checks won’t be available until September. How is that possible? Taxpayers who have direct deposit information on file will receive their checks first. Of course, not all taxpayers have current direct deposit information on file so the IRS plans to develop a web-based portal for those individuals to provide their banking information online – but that portal is not up and running yet. If the IRS mails out paper checks, those take longer to process. You can read more here.

I’ve heard that some people got their checks weeks ago. Is that true? Not unless they can time travel.

Can I get my check faster if I pay for it? No, that’s a scam. You can find out more about scams and hoaxes related to stimulus checks here.

Will I still get the check if I owe the IRS some money? Yes. If your refund would normally be seized to pay a tax debt, that shouldn’t happen here. The law says no offsets for existing federal tax debts.

What about if I am on an installment plan? Same result: the law says no offsets for existing federal tax debts.

What if my check is usually seized for child support? The law says that checks won’t be levied or offset, but there is an exception for child support. Under the law, your check can be seized or taken for if you owe back child support.

I’ve seen so many versions circulating on the internet. Where can I find the actual text of the law? Here’s the link. And here’s a tip: When verifying a law, rule or similar, look for government sources, including official websites.

What does the IRS have to say about all of this? The IRS has confirmed some of this information and will eventually post more information on its website.

Can I call them and ask? The IRS asks that you not call.

What about you? Please don’t call me either (my kids would likely be in the background asking to be fed again). But I’m happy to answer your questions: here’s how to ask.