taxes

Tax rebate FAQs

As soon as lawmakers in Washington, D.C., began talking about tax rebate checks in January, two big questions arose: Who will get the money and how much will they get?

Congress took a step toward satisfying our curiosity Feb. 7 with the final passage of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 (H.R. 5140). President Bush made it law with his signature Feb. 13. Now the IRS can begin setting up the system to get checks out to 130 million Americans.

In the meantime, as is often the case with taxes, answers to those first two big questions led to additional inquiries. And as the various rebate amounts and eligibility situations were more widely discussed, confusion reigned.

Don't despair. Most folks will get some cash back from Uncle Sam. And Bankrate has found answers to some common questions that should help you determine just how big a check you can expect.

Will I get a check?

If you had any net income tax liability for the 2007 tax year, you will get some money back.

So will individuals who last year had earned incomes of at least $3,000 but who owed no taxes. This provision, added by the Senate to the original proposal drafted by the House and the administration, means that around 20 million lower-income older Americans who rely primarily on Social Security payments, and 250,000 disabled veterans (and those who receive their survivor benefits), will get a rebate.

Some parents also will get an extra payment for each eligible child.

How much will I get?

The figures $300, $600 and $1,200 have gotten a lot of attention. That's because they are part of the basic rebate amounts, as follows:
  • Individual taxpayers could receive rebate checks of at least $300 and up to $600.
  • Married couples will get up to $1,200.
  • Most individuals who have income of $3,000 but who do not have to file a return will get $300.
  • Some taxpayers with children will receive an additional $300 per child.

Now we get to that "additional inquiries" situation noted earlier.

Let's start with the majority of rebate recipients, who will be workers who in 2007 had "net tax liability." Most of them will get a check for $600. That amount, however, is the maximum rebate, so some could get less.

The key phrase in determining the precise amount is "net tax liability." This figure is the amount of tax you owe, both regular and alternative minimum, and is entered on line 57 on the 2007 Form 1040 (line 35 on 1040A), plus any child tax credit amount you claim. For 1040EZ filers it's the line 10 amount.

Many workers will have a net tax liability above $600, so they'll get the maximum individual rebate amount. But if your tax liability is less, then that will be the amount of your rebate check.

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Married taxpayers who file joint returns will get a maximum rebate of $1,200. That's double the maximum possible rebate amount for single filers. Again, it could be less than that, depending on your tax liability. But don't worry if only one spouse earned the income. Filing jointly is all that's necessary.

What if you don't have any net tax liability? Thanks to a provision added by the Senate to the House/White House original rebate proposal, you can still qualify for a rebate of $300 for single filers ($600 for joint filers) as long as you have at least $3,000 in income from a job or Social Security or veterans' disability benefits.

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