Stimulus checks for older adults: Rules for retired people, SSI, veterans and third check changes – CNET

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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

There’s a lot going on when it comes to stimulus checks this week. While Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ties up the Senate (watch it live here), the House is currently debating President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal, which includes a third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person — including many older adults — that could be approved within weeks. And tax season officially starts on Friday, which is when you’ll be able to claim any missing money from your first or second stimulus checkeven if you don’t usually file taxes.

We’ve got all the information that older adults need to know about the potential third stimulus check, and if you and any of your dependents are likely to qualify for the full amount, as there will probably be some changes from the first two rounds. We’ll also walk you through what to do if some or all of your first or second stimulus payment never arrived, and how to claim it as an IRS Recovery Rebate Credit, or when you might need to request an IRS payment trace to track down those funds. 

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 an older adult or a senior citizen?

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?

For the first and second stimulus checks, whether you were eligible for any stimulus money (and if you were, how much money you could receive) hinged 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. 

For a potential third stimulus check, some of the eligibility rules are likely to change — read on for more.


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Could a third stimulus check change the eligibility rules and bring me more money?

There are several ways that qualifications could change with a third stimulus checkBiden’s proposal also includes a payment of up to $1,400 for all dependents, no matter their age, to be added on to the household’s total. That means 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.

Biden’s plan also includes families with “mixed-status” citizenship, where members have different immigration statuses. Both of these groups were left out from the first and second stimulus payments.  

Congress is currently debating whether or not it will “target” the checks to households with a lower income threshold, but that has yet to be decided.

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

What happens if I never got part or all of my first or second stimulus check?

If you haven’t received your first or second 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. We recommend filing your taxes as early as possible (here’s why) and registering your bank account for direct deposit with the IRS.

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If you count as someone else’s dependent, you may be eligible for stimulus money in the potential third round of checks.


Angela Lang/CNET

Do I have to file a tax return this year, 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, 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 figure 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 stimulus check qualifications for the second payment, 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 older adults may not have gotten a first or second 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 or second round of stimulus checks. However, Biden’s current proposal would allow dependents of all ages to be eligible to add up to $1,400 to the household’s total payment

What if I’m over age 65 with dependents but didn’t get the additional $500 with the first payment or $600 with the second?

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, or an extra $600 under the December stimulus bill, you’ll have to claim your stimulus payment on behalf of eligible dependents as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

I’m an SSI or SSDI recipient. Am I still eligible for a stimulus 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 and second stimulus check, and should be eligible for a third, if one is approved. Find out everything you need to know about how SSI and SSDI impact stimulus checks here

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


Angela Lang/CNET

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, were 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. 

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. US citizens living abroad were also eligible for a first payment. 

For the third payment, Biden’s proposal includes checks for “mixed-status” citizenship families — those with different immigration statuses, who were left out of the first two checks.

Which older adults qualified for the first and second 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 two stimulus payments, 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 and second 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 first or second stimulus check. If you did not receive all or part of your money, you’ll need to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

For more, check out what we know so far about a third stimulus check, and when the IRS might send a new payment out.