“I am a retired U.S. citizen on Social Security living abroad,” one reader wrote. “My mailing foreign address is on file with the Social Security Administration. I have not yet received a stimulus payment. Am I still eligible?”
Another emailed: “I receive Social Security Disability via direct deposit to an American account while living abroad in France. I was trapped stateside when the borders closed while visiting family. Because I work sometimes, I have always filed my tax returns through 2018. My 2019 documents are in my French apartment, so I haven’t filed for that year yet. I’m beyond livid at the situation. They gave all that money to the uber-wealthy and corporations, are not protecting Americans from this disease, and have made it impossible to find out any information about how to receive our crumbs.”
On its online page about the stimulus payments, the IRS addresses questions from Americans living abroad. The agency notes that U.S. citizens living outside the country are eligible for a stimulus payment if they have a Social Security number and can’t be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer. U.S. citizens married to immigrants without Social Security numbers aren’t eligible for a stimulus payment.
The United States doesn’t compile official data on the number of Americans living overseas, but in 2016, the State Department estimated 9 million Americans live overseas.
If you live in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, in general, the local tax authorities will issue the stimulus payment, the IRS said. In such cases, contact the local tax authority, the agency said.
If you haven’t received a stimulus payment, the IRS says to check the “Get My Payment” tool. It may help, although many people are still complaining that they are getting error messages or a notice saying their information cannot be determined. If accessing the “Get My Payment” portal doesn’t work, you may get a letter indicating that a payment was made, even if it hasn’t shown up yet. The Cares Act requires a letter be mailed to the taxpayer’s last known address 15 days after a stimulus payment is sent.
If you reliably get correspondence from the Social Security Administration, then presumably you should get the economic impact payment (EIP) letter, according to IRS spokesman Eric Smith. “After that’s received and there’s still no payment, then the tracing procedures are available,” he said.
Smith said if you received an EIP Notice 1444 in the mail or a payment date from “Get My Payment” but have not received your payment, request a payment trace by submitting IRS Form 3911 or call 800-919-9835.
I should warn you that the IRS is still not processing mailed correspondence, so it may take some time for the agency to track down what happened to your stimulus payment. And the EIP phone line has limited staffing.
For Social Security recipients, there’s still the possibility that your payment is coming but is delayed by the reduced staffing at the IRS due to the novel coronavirus.
“Hopefully they typically get both their benefits and federal refunds by direct deposit,” Smith said. “But regardless of how they get their benefits, if they file a return, just as for stateside filers, what’s on the return will control. So if there’s no refund, which certainly wouldn’t be surprising for someone on Social Security, they will be getting their economic impact payment by check, unless they were able to use our Get My Payment tool to add their direct deposit information. If they’re due to get a check, there could be delays merely due to the additional time often required for delivering mail to foreign addresses.”
Please join me Thursday at noon (Eastern time) for a live discussion about your money. My guests will be Alanna McCargo, vice president for housing finance policy at the Urban Institute, and Michael Neal, a senior research associate in the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.
We’ll be discussing their new report, “How Economic Crises and Sudden Disasters Increase Racial Disparities in Homeownership,” which is this month’s Color of Money Book Club pick.
Reader Question of the Week
If you have a personal finance or retirement question, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line, put “Question of the Week.”
Q: Recently, we received a letter that our credit limit was being lowered. The reason given was that we spent far below our available credit limit in the past 12 months. This is absolutely true, as we tend to use cards that give cash back and pay those in full. Because the card provider is reducing the available credit, how will this affect our credit rating?
A: Major credit card issuers are dropping credit limits as a result of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to CreditCards.com.
“Most people don’t realize how much freedom credit card issuers have to cut limits or even cancel cards without warning,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
Rossman said that in 2008, during the Great Recession, 20 percent of card companies cut credit lines for customers with prime credit scores, and 60 percent reduced lines for subprime cardholders.
Even Rossman, who has a super high credit score (829), wrote recently that his credit limit was cut. He called to complain, and it was restored.
“To my surprise, I was able to get the decision reversed simply by calling customer service and asking politely,” Rossman wrote. “It took less than a minute. It didn’t even require a hard credit check. This is a good tip if you receive a similar notification, although it won’t always work.”
Bankrate.com addressed credit limit cuts amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying: “Reducing the amount of money that cardholders are able to borrow is one way in which banks look to mitigate their risk during times of financial uncertainty.”
A reduction in a credit limit when you’ve paid your bill on time and in full seems like an insult when you are being careful about your credit usage.
Credit scoring models look at your credit utilization for each active account and, separately, your usage for all of your credit cards together. Thirty percent of your credit score is made up of how you manage debt or your “credit utilization,” meaning what percentage of your available credit is being used or borrowed.
One study by FICO found that cardholders with scores above 795 use, on average, 7 percent of their credit limit. The average revolving utilization for consumers with a perfect 850 credit score was 4.1 percent.
As long as you keep your credit utilization low, the lower credit limit should not affect your credit score.
Retirement Rants and Raves
I’m also interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. You can rant or rave. Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
Most of the comments are still about missing or delayed stimulus payments.
“I am 68 years old and receive my Social Security every month like clockwork through direct deposit,” wrote Raymond Siska of Parma, Ohio. “It is my only source of income. I am not required to file a tax return and have not since 2016. According to the IRS, I should have received my $1,200 at the end of April. It is now June 9th. I still have not received my payment.”
If you haven’t received your payment, this post may help.