Stimulus checks: How adult dependents can claim their $1,400 payment

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Millions of more Americans are getting their hands on a coronavirus stimulus check for the first time, underscoring the importance of the new crowd staying on top of their $1,400 payment as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doles out more money by the week.

No longer excluded from stimulus checks are U.S. adults claimed on another taxpayer’s return, after President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan widened eligibility. Known as “adult dependents,” these individuals are often college students or individuals who recently turned age 18 but are still living under their parent’s roof.

The payment won’t go directly to the adult dependent, but rather to the parent or guardian who claims the individual. Still, experts say these ramped up payments will be a boon for many hard-hit Americans, with caretakers and families bearing the brunt of the coronavirus crisis’ burden. Unlike the first $1,200 stimulus check, adult dependents are eligible for an amount as high as the head of household, meaning families could be eligible for a much larger check this time around.

“The $1,400 payments, on top of $600 earlier, sent to qualifying individual members of low-and moderate-income households including adults, children and even adult dependents will help foster economic growth this year,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst and Washington bureau chief.

Here’s what you need to know about qualifying for a stimulus payment if you’re an adult dependent or a taxpayer who claims one, including how soon you can expect to receive that money.

What qualifies someone as an adult dependent

An important piece of the puzzle, the IRS has a five-part test for determining which adults can be claimed as dependents.

Adult children have to be older than age 17 but younger than 19 to be considered an adult dependent from a tax perspective. If an adult dependent is a full-time student for at least five months of the year, the individual has to be under the age of 24. Most of the time, they have to be related to the adult taxpayer who’s claiming them and share the same permanent address. Perhaps even more important: Adult dependents can work a full-time job, as many college students or adult-aged children do, but they cannot have provided more than half of their own support to be considered a dependent. Elderly parents and adults with disabilities who a taxpayer cares for also count.

How stimulus payments for adult dependents are determined

Adult dependents are eligible for a stimulus check worth exactly what the adult(s) who claimed them receive, a provision exclusive to this round of stimulus payments. In other words, if your head of household or parents were each eligible for a $1,400 payment, each dependent would be eligible for a $1,400 payment as well.

Pay close attention to eligibility requirements, particularly because income cutoffs are much steeper this time around. To receive the full $1,400 check, head of households have to earn no more than $112,500 a year, while married couples must make no more than $150,000.

After that, stimulus checks phase out drastically. Married couples earning $160,000 or more and heads of households making $120,000 or above won’t be eligible for a check at all.

Information would be based on your household’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on its most recent income information, likely your 2020 or 2019 tax return.

In the previous two stimulus rounds, households only earned extra money for dependents if they were under the age of 16, at an amount of $500 through the CARES Act and then $600 via the second supplemental $900 billion package.

How you can expect to receive your stimulus payment

The most important thing to remember if you’re an adult dependent looking for a stimulus payment: You won’t be individually receiving these stimulus payments. Rather, they’ll be incorporated in the lump sum that your parent or guardian receives.

The IRS and Treasury Department are delivering stimulus checks through three main methods: direct deposit, as well as mailed physical check or a prepaid debit card. If your household has a bank account and routing number on file with the IRS, the payment will most likely hit your family’s bank account, the fastest method of delivery. New to this round, the Treasury Department is also working across government agencies to access any bank accounts that might have been on file for other federal payments, potentially speeding up the delivery process.

Mailed checks or debit cards will likely take longer, potentially adding weeks to the process. Be sure to keep a watchful eye out for any letters or notices that come from the IRS or Treasury Department and hold onto any documents referring to your stimulus payment.

The IRS started delivering the third stimulus check round on March 12 and has now delivered roughly four-fifths of all payments, according to a March 24 notice from the agency. The IRS will continue delivering paper checks and debit cards on a weekly basis, a process that started officially on March 19.

The text of the American Relief Plan gives both agencies until Dec. 31, 2021, to distribute all funds, meaning the last round of checks could theoretically hit consumers’ mailboxes around January 2022.

It’s pertinent that members of your household calculate for themselves how much in stimulus payments they’re eligible to receive. Odds are, they’ll be able to claim any missing Economic Impact Payments (EIP) during next year’s tax filing season as well, by claiming what’s called a “Recovery Rebate Credit.”

What adult dependents should do next

Adult dependents should take a careful glance at their finances and any lifestyle changes from 2020 to see if they are, in fact, eligible to individually claim a stimulus credit. That could potentially be worth up to $3,200, accounting for all three stimulus rounds.

If you’re a college student who works a job and lives on campus, you very well could’ve ended up covering more than half of your own support in the tax year of 2020. Others might’ve graduated in 2020 and started working a new job. Meanwhile, if you turned age 24 last year, you might’ve unknowingly aged out of the “adult dependents” category. If those circumstances sound like they might apply to you, consider filing independently for the 2020 tax year and claiming a Recovery Rebate Credit for yourself.

But be careful: When in doubt, don’t file independently. You don’t want to risk raising any red flags with the IRS, delaying your family’s tax return. Also potentially risky, filing independently could cause your parent or guardian to miss out on the more tax-advantaged “head of household” filing status if you’re the only dependent they’re claiming. That could cost them crucial tax breaks and credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Direct all questions to a tax professional.

On the flipside, if you’re a head of household and adopted a child older than age 16, you should also consider claiming a Recovery Rebate Credit when you file your 2020 taxes. Meanwhile, you might also be eligible to take advantage of Child Tax Credit (CTC) program enhancements under the Biden administration, which will provide households with an extra $1,000 on top of the $2,000 payment for which they were originally eligible, so as long as that adult dependent is not older than 17.

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Written by
Sarah Foster
U.S. economy reporter
Sarah Foster covers the Federal Reserve, the U.S. economy and economic policy. She previously worked for Bloomberg News, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily Herald.
Edited by
Senior wealth editor