As part of the IRS’ Coronavirus Tax Relief program, the government is sending economic impact payments to eligible U.S. citizens. These “stimulus payments” are designed to provide relief to the millions of Americans who are impacted by the economic distress of COVID-19. With 78% of people in the U.S. currently living paycheck to paycheck,¹ these stimulus checks are often lifelines. For those of you who are lucky enough to use it to plan for the next couple of months and don’t have to use this immediately, I’m sharing some tips for you to make the most of your check.
First things first – make sure you’re eligible. U.S. residents will receive the Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 for individual or head of household filers, and $2,400 for married filing jointly (if they are not a dependent of another taxpayer) and have a work eligible Social Security number with adjusted gross income up to:
- $75,000 for individuals
- $112,500 for head of household filers and
- $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns²
Families of four who meet qualifications may receive up to $3000 as well. The stimulus amount starts phasing out above the income levels listed above. For more information on program eligibility and additional members who may qualify for payments, please visit the economic impact payment center.
Additionally, if you are eligible for a payment, make sure you know how you will be receiving your payments. If you filed your taxes already and received a refund through direct deposit, you should receive your check directly in your bank account. If you received your refund via check, you will receive your payment in the mail. It’s also important to remember that if you haven’t received your payment yet, it could still take time to come depending on how you filed your taxes. The IRS is starting with lower income levels first, so if you fall into a higher income bracket, you could be waiting a bit longer.
So, you’ve checked your bank account and noticed that you’ve received your payment. What to do now? Once you take care of your immediate living expenses such as a rent or food, then it’s time to think about the best ways for the money to have a lasting impact.
I plan to put most of my stimulus payment into my “rainy day fund” a.k.a. my emergency savings account. This is especially important for those who have lost their jobs recently and are falling back on savings to cover basic living expenses. For those who still have jobs, it’s still a good idea to put money away, because you never know when you’ll need it. Ideally, your rainy day funds are enough to cover three to six months of living expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, groceries, utilities and more. In addition, a good financial goal is to have a buffer amount that is large enough to cover out-of-pocket health care expenses
Debt and Loan Payments
For those who are in the process of paying off loans, consider also putting a small portion of your stimulus payment towards your loans. Whether it be in the form of a car loan, student loan, or credit card balance, paying off a little amount now may help you in the long run. The word “small” is key here. Avoid putting your whole check towards your debt payment, because you may end up needing to have that money in case of an emergency. Make sure you fund your emergency savings before you consider paying off large amounts of debt. If you are in this situation, consider paying off credit card debt first. These typically carry higher interest rates, and some other types of loans are allowing you to pause payments for up to two months.
Give to Others
If you are in a fortunate position, where you have even a small amount to spare, consider making a donation to those neighbors who are hardest hit. First and foremost, make sure you can afford to. It’s important to prioritize your savings and loan payoffs first, but if you are looking for a way to give back in this uncertain economic environment, consider donating to local or national charities.
Many workers have filed for unemployment due to the closing of small businesses/layoffs, and there has been a growing spike in demand from food banks. Nonprofits will see a demand for their services increase as well. If you can, consider donating to your local food shelf or small business. You can also support them by purchasing gift cards or donating food and toiletry items. There are also non-traditional ways to give back with your stimulus check. Consider buying lunch for healthcare workers at your local hospital, as some did here. Times like these call for compassion and solidarity…and even the smallest gesture can brighten someone’s day.
1: Source Forbes, 78% of Workers Live Paycheck to