Individuals making $75,000 or less and couples earning up to twice that are eligible to receive $1,200. There’s an extra $500 for each dependent child under 17.
In an effort to rush payments to people, the Treasury Department authorized the IRS to send the first wave of credits to people who had filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 and who had received refunds. The agency already had bank account information to deliver those payments electronically. On April 15, Treasury said more than 80 million Americans had received economic impact payments.
But those payments created a divide between those who got money and those who didn’t, sowing frustration, confusion and anger.
Thousands of people have contacted The Washington Post wondering why they haven’t received their money. Many awaiting help are low-income veterans and Social Security recipients.
“I’m a disabled Gulf War veteran,” said Dwayne Ford of Kansas City, Mo. “Low-income and disabled folks, those are the folks that you should’ve paid first, or paid us all simultaneously.”
A Maryland woman emailed, “When will Social Security retirees see their payments in their bank accounts?”
A California reader posed the same question, noting, “I am a Social Security recipient, living below the poverty line.”
It’s taken time for Treasury to figure out how to work with other agencies to automatically send payments to people receiving certain federal benefits.
While the living wait for much-needed funds, the IRS has rushed out stimulus checks to the deceased. Payments have gone out to surviving spouses and to bank accounts that relatives kept open to settle a dead loved one’s estate.
The IRS is working off tax returns filed as far back as 2018, even if the filer is no longer alive. Toni Kamins, who lives in New York, received two $1,200 payments, one for herself and another for her ex-husband, who died last year. Since her husband had left no will and had no heirs, Kamins handled filing his 2019 return. On the return, she told the IRS that her ex had died.
Dennis Akers’s 88-year-old mother-in-law died in January. His 96-year-old mother died a month later. Akers held a joint checking account with each of them because he helped take care of their bills. Both deceased women received direct-deposit stimulus payments. Akers said he had informed Social Security when both women died. Now, Akers says he’s going to just let the money sit until he receives direction from the IRS. I would do the same.
“I don’t know what’s right or wrong,” he said.
In cases where stimulus funds reach a surviving spouse, an IRS spokesman said the payments may not have to be returned, depending on the circumstances.
“We are aware of all the various issues involving surviving spouses and other heirs and are still working on them,” said IRS spokesman Eric Smith.
If the IRS is basing a stimulus payment on a joint return filed by a spouse whose partner has died, then the surviving spouse should be allowed to keep the money, according to Erin Voisin, a California-based certified financial planner. “The year in which someone passes, a spouse can still file as married filing jointly,” she said.
The rollout of the payments has been riddled with glitches. People have complained that they received the wrong amount, that the money was sent to their tax preparer, or that they had trouble accessing an IRS online portal, “Get My Payments,” that was supposed to help folks track their payment and input direct-deposit information to speed its arrival.
After some uncertainty, the IRS and Treasury announced that people who reap a wide range of government benefits should receive their $1,200 automatically by direct deposit, Direct Express debit card or check, just as they would typically receive their benefits. The group includes recipients of Social Security, survivor or disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income or Railroad Retirement benefits, as well as recipients of veterans disability compensation, pension or survivor benefits.
I know the government wanted to get the stimulus money out as soon as possible. But to announce that tens of millions of people have gotten paid while effectively telling veterans and seniors, “We’ll get to you later,” was a blunder that made many Americans feel like second-class citizens.
Have a question about retirement or personal finance? Join Michelle for an online Q&A every Thursday at 12 p.m. ET. Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.