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At least one rule change might affect older adults and retirees if a third stimulus check comes to be


Sarah Tew/CNET

We’re now in an interesting zone between the second stimulus check going out, tax season around the bend and a third stimulus check — perhaps for as much as $1,400 per person — now very firmly on the horizon. For older adults, retired folks, veterans and more, there are a lot of important things to know about all three of these events. And they may be just as relevant if you file taxes each year or if you don’t.

We’ll walk you through what happens if you didn’t get a second stimulus check you think you were qualified to receive, how you claim it as an IRS rebate credit (even if you’re a nonfiler — but you will need this letter) and when you actually may want to request an IRS payment trace.

There’s also one important change we may see in a third stimulus check, which could affect some older adults who live with relatives. In general, we’ll address the big questions that could affect the amount of money you’re owed, including your tax filingsadjusted gross income, pension, Social Security benefits (SSI, SSDI) and whether you count as someone else’s adult dependent. This story was updated with new information.

Does the IRS consider me a senior citizen or older adult?

Anyone age 65 or older at the end of 2019 is considered a senior adult on their taxes that year and beyond. (If you have questions about citizenship requirements, see more below.)

Am I eligible for a stimulus check?

Whether you’re eligible for a any stimulus check (and if you are, how much money you could receive) hinges on whether you’re considered a dependent and on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing. 

If you have a pension or investments that are taxable, those will affect your AGI, and therefore your eligibility for a stimulus check. The same is true for interest from a bank account. However, interest from tax-exempt bonds is not included in your AGI, so wouldn’t affect your stimulus payment eligibility. 


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How could a third stimulus check change qualifications or bring you more money?

There are several ways that qualifications could change with a third stimulus check. President Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that would make dependents of any age count toward the family total — that was $500 with the first check and $600 with the second. If a family member supports you, you may be soon be eligible to be counted. If you support an adult child, for example, a college student, you may be able to get a higher stimulus check balance in the next round, if this qualification makes it into the final bill.

The move, if approved, would provide money to households on behalf of an estimated 13.5 million adult dependents, according to the People’s Policy Project.

Here are other ways some households could potentially get more money with the next stimulus payment.

Has my second stimulus check been sent?

If you haven’t received your check by now, you will likely need to claim a missing payment using the Recovery Rebate Credit — that includes people who don’t usually file taxes, too. 

However, we recommend getting a little more information by using the IRS’ free Get My Payment online portal to see your stimulus status
. If you use the Recovery Rebate Credit, your stimulus allotment will either be bundled with your tax refund or you’ll pay less tax in your return.

What if I didn’t get either stimulus check? Is there anything I can do?

If you’re age 65 or older and qualified for a first stimulus check under the March CARES Act, you may need to report your missing money to the IRS. In some cases, you may need to take an extra step to claim the payment. Otherwise, you’ll still be able to file a claim during this year’s tax season. We recommend filing your taxes as early as possible (here’s why) and registering your bank account for direct deposit with the IRS.

What were the different rules with the second stimulus payment?

Qualifications for the second stimulus check remain largely the same for older adults as with the first check, but there are a few differences, and some people won’t qualify for the second stimulus check even if they got the first one. With the current stimulus package, you’ll get up to $600 for each child dependent. Those who count as dependents on someone else’s taxes, however, are not eligible for additional money under the December stimulus package — this includes older adult dependents. 

For older adults and retired people, your tax filings, your AGI, your pension and your SSDI program will affect your second payment if you’re qualified (more below). 

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If you count as someone else’s dependent, you weren’t eligible for any stimulus money under the CARES Act. 


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Do SSI or SSDI affect whether I’m eligible for a payment? 

If you are over age 65 and a recipient of Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you were eligible for a first stimulus check, and will also be eligible for a second check. Find out everything you need to know about how SSI and SSDI impact stimulus checks here

Do I have to file a tax return, even if I’m a nonfiler?

A nonfiler is a person who is not required to pay taxes to the IRS during tax season. The requirement to file a tax return depends on your gross income (not your AGI), which is all income you receive in the form of money, goods, property and services that aren’t tax-exempt (more below). For 2019, the standard deduction amount for single filers was $12,200. 

However, if you’re claiming missing stimulus money in a Recovery Rebate Credit, even nonfilers will have to file a tax return this year. You may be able to use a special form and file for free. You will, however, need some specific information.

Your gross income is different from your adjusted gross income, or AGI, which is your gross income minus any eligible adjustments that you may qualify for. (Find out everything you need to know about how your taxes impact your stimulus payment here.)

If you’re age 65 or older, you should file taxes under the following circumstances:

  • Single filer with at least $13,850 in gross income
  • Head of household with at least $20,000 in gross income
  • Married filing jointly (if one spouse is 65 or older, $25,700 in gross income; if both spouses are 65 or older, $27,000 in gross income)
  • Married filing separately (any age, $5)
  • Qualifying widow(er) age 65 or older with at least $25,700 in gross income

In the 2019 tax year, the IRS introduced Form 1040-SR, US Tax Return for Seniors. This form is basically the same as Form 1040, but has larger text and some helpful information for older taxpayers. 

How do I find out my gross income? 

Your gross income (again, this differs from your adjusted gross income, or AGI) includes income from selling your main home, gains (but not losses) reported on Form 8949 or Schedule D and from sources outside of the US. 

Your gross income does not include any social security benefits, unless:

  • You are married but filing separated, and lived with your spouse at some point in 2019.
  • Half of your social security benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest is more than $25,000 filing single (or $32,000 if married filing jointly). 

If either of those is the case for you, you can check out the Instructions for Forms 1040 and 1040-SR or Pub. 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits to figure the taxable part of social security benefits you must include in gross income.

How do I know if I’m considered a dependent on someone else’s taxes? 

Some older people may count as a dependent on someone else’s taxes, called a “qualifying relative.” For example, you may live with your children. In terms of qualifying for a potential second stimulus check, the main tax filer would have had to claim you as a dependent on their tax form 1040 in 2019. 

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There are a few reasons why some seniors may not have gotten a first stimulus check.


Sarah Tew/CNET

A qualifying relative can be any age. To be counted as a qualifying relative on someone’s tax return, the person must meet four criteria: 

  • Do not count as a qualifying child dependent
  • Live with the family member all year as a member of their household, or count as a relative who does not have to live with you all year (such as a parent or grandparent, a stepparent, or a sibling) 
  • Have a gross income for the year of less than $4,200
  • Have more than half of your support during the year come from that family member

If you were a dependent on someone else’s taxes and were over the age of 16, you were not qualified for any stimulus money at all in the first round of stimulus checks. 

Am I eligible for a stimulus check if I’m not a US citizen but pay taxes? 

Under the December stimulus bill, non-US citizens, including those who pay taxes, are not eligible to receive the $600 payment, unlike with the first round of checks. Under the CARES Act, all US citizens and non-US citizens with a Social Security number who live and work in America were eligible to receive stimulus payments. That includes people who the IRS refers to as “resident aliens,” green card holders and workers using visas such as H-1B and H-2A. 

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What counts as income? That depends on your very personal circumstances.


Angela Lang/CNET

If your citizenship status changed since you first got a Social Security number, you may have to update the IRS’s records to get your check (more on that below). US citizens living abroad were also eligible for a first payment. 

What if you’re over age 65 with dependents but didn’t get the additional $500 with the first payment?

If you’re age 65 or older and have a child dependent age 16 or younger who qualified for an extra $500 under the CARES Act, you’ll have to claim your stimulus payment on behalf of eligible dependents as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

Which older adults qualified for the first round of stimulus checks? 

And what about veterans, dependents and members of SSI and SSDI programs? 

Social Security recipients and retired railroad workers who were not required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 were eligible for the first stimulus payment, and were not required to file a tax return to get their check, according to the IRS. The payments were based on information contained in their 1099 benefit statements, with no additional paperwork required. 

Supplemental Security Income recipients without dependent children should have received stimulus payments automatically, without having to file any additional paperwork as well. The same is true for people who receive Compensation and Pensions benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

People who are part of the Social Security Disability Insurance program who were not required to file tax returns for 2018 or 2019 should also have automatically received a first stimulus payment. (Find out more about how SSDI impacts stimulus payments here.) 

However, older people who were claimed as a dependent on 2019 tax forms were not eligible for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. If you did not receive all or part of your money, you’ll need to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

Why didn’t I get my full first stimulus payment?

There are several possible reasons that you may not have received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center:

The IRS did not have enough information to decide on your eligibility. If you receive Social Security retirement, SSDI, survivor benefits, SSI, Veterans Affairs Compensation and Pension benefits or Railroad Retirement benefits and did not automatically get a payment by check, direct deposit or EIP card, you needed to fill out a form in the online IRS nonfilers tool by Oct. 15. Otherwise, you’ll have to file a tax return for 2020 and select Recovery Rebate Credit to get your check. 

If you can’t submit the information online using the tool, you can still use the site to enter the required information and then print and mail the document to the IRS. Write “EIP 2020” at the top of the printed document.

This may have happened if you became a US citizen or received your green card since you first got a social security number. To qualify for a check, you must have the correct type of Social Security number that authorizes you to work in the US, Holtzblatt said. If your citizenship status changed and you didn’t inform SSA, the IRS’s records would not be up to date. 

You owed child support. In some cases, you may not have received your payment (or the full amount) because you owe child support. Under certain circumstances, the Treasury Department reduces government payments by the amount of child support owed. (Read more about how child support impacts stimulus payments here.)

You had a bank overdraft or lien. In some cases, the full stimulus payment was directly deposited into your bank account, but the bank may have withheld all or a portion of it because of an overdraft or a lien from a third party. If you suspect this is the case, you should contact your bank.