How Do I Get My Stimulus Check? (FAQ)

Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) LSC Funded


Update for January 8, 2021

December 29, the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department began delivering a second round of Economic Impact Payments as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 to millions of Americans who received the first round of payments earlier this year.

The IRS emphasizes that there is no action required by eligible individuals to receive this second payment. Some Americans may see the direct deposit payments as pending or as provisional payments in their accounts before the official payment date of January 4, 2021. The IRS reminds taxpayers that the payments are automatic, and they should not contact their financial institutions or the IRS with payment timing questions.

As with the first round of payments under the CARES Act, most recipients will receive these payments by direct deposit. For Social Security and other beneficiaries who received the first round of payments via Direct Express, they will receive this second payment the same way.
Anyone who received the first round of payments earlier this year but doesn’t receive a payment via direct deposit will generally receive a check or, in some instances, a debit card. For those in this category, the payments will conclude in January. If additional legislation is enacted to provide for an additional amount, the Economic Impact Payments that have been issued will be topped up as quickly as possible. Read the full IRS press release


This article will answer the following questions:


What is an "economic impact payment?"

On March 27th, 2020, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Under this bill, a one-time payment will be made to adult U.S. residents who have a social security number (there is an exception for members of the military). These economic impact payments have commonly been referred to as “stimulus checks.”


Do I have to apply to get an economic impact payment?

No. The IRS will automatically calculate each resident’s economic impact payment. No application is needed.


Who will get a stimulus check, and how much will I get?

U.S. residents who have a social security number and make up to $75,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI) are eligible for a $1,200 check. Married couples who jointly make less than $150,00 AGI are eligible for $2,400. Individuals who filed as Head of Household are eligible for the $1,200 payment if their AGI was below $112,500.

Individuals who earn more than $75,000 AGI and couples who earn more than $150,000 AGI are eligible for smaller checks. For every additional $100 over the threshold an individual made, their check will decrease by $5.

Individuals who make more than $99,000 AGI and couples who make more than $198,000 AGI are not eligible for checks (unless they have dependents, which increase the amount an individual or couple can make before being barred from receiving an economic impact payment).


How is my "adjusted gross income" determined?

Your adjusted gross income is your income minus adjustments to that income. Adjustments include things like student loan interest, alimony payments, and contributions to a retirement account.

The IRS will be using your 2019 tax return AGI to determine the amount of your economic impact payment. If you have not yet filed your 2019 taxes, the IRS will use your 2018 AGI to make the calculation.


Does having dependents impact my check?

Yes. A parent will receive an additional $500 for every child they claimed on their most recent tax return. Couples who filed jointly will also receive an additional $500 for each child claimed. If parents are separated, whichever parent claimed the child on the most recent tax return will receive the $500.

The IRS has not released information about whether or not filers with adult dependents will receive an increase to their economic impact payment.  


Do I need to file my taxes to get a stimulus check?

Most people do not need to do anything to get their stimulus payment. If you don't know if you are going to get your payment automatically, it is safest to file a tax return.

  • If you filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, you will automatically get your stimulus payment the same way you got your last tax return. If you have already filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes and need to update your direct deposit information or mailing address, you can do that on the IRS Get My Payment page
  • If you received retirement or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2019 you will automatically get your stimulus payment (but you will not get the payment for any dependents you have). 
  • If you do need to file a tax return, the form you should fill out will depend on how much money you made in 2019. If you made less than $12,200 in 2019 ($24,400 for a married couple), did not receive Social Security Retirement, Disability Insurance, or Survivor Benefits, or were not otherwise required to file a federal income tax in 2019, you can use the IRS’s Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info form.
  • However, if you made more than $12,200 in 2019 and have not filed your taxes for 2018 or 2019, you will need to do so before you can receive your COVID-19 stimulus payment. You can find free tax filing services online
  • If you are a senior citizen, Social Security recipient, or railroad retiree, you do not have to file a tax return. The IRS will use the information on Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 to determine your payment. Because these forms do not have information on the number of dependents claimed buy an individual, it is a good idea to enter payment information for non-filers if you have any dependents.

Find the most recent updates about stimulus checks from the IRS. You can find free tax filing software from


What if someone claimed me as a dependent in 2019?

If you are an adult and someone claimed you as a dependent for the 2019 filing year, you will not receive an economic impact payment.


Where will my check be mailed?

If you used the direct deposit option for your 2019 return, the IRS will deposit the economic impact payment directly to the account you listed on that return. If the last return you filed was your 2018 return and you used the direct deposit option, then the economic impact payment will be deposited into the account listed on your 2018 return.

If you did not use the direct payment option on your tax return, the IRS will send your economic impact payment check to the address listed on your 2019 return (or your 2018 return if you have not yet filed a 2019 return).


What if I move a lot? Is there a way to make sure my check gets sent to the right place?

The IRS is currently working on a web-based portal for filers to provide their direct deposit information to the IRS. This will allow the economic impact payment to be deposited directly to your account.


I have student loan debt. Will my check be garnished?

No. In fact, you may also be eligible to stop making payments on your loan during the Covid-19 crisis. Visit the Federal Student Aid’s Coronavirus page for more information.


I have back child support. Will my check be garnished?

It could be. Economic impact payments can be garnished if back child support is owed.


I have debts which were sent to collection agencies (like medical bills or credit cards). Could my economic impact payment be garnished or levied from my bank account?

It could be. A debt collector with a court judgment against you cannot directly garnish your impact payment from the federal government. However, a debt collector with a court judgment can legally take money from any bank account with your name on it. If you have joint accounts with other people, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to determine how best to protect the funds in the account.

Learn more about what you can do if you're worried about a debt collector taking your stimulus check


Can I get a loan to cover expenses while I wait on my stimulus check?

First, you might want to think about how quickly you can get a loan and compare that to how long it will take to get a stimulus check. The U.S. Treasury began issuing stimulus checks as early as April 9, 2020. The government says it will distribute checks as quickly as possible. If you filed taxes this year or last year, you’ll get your stimulus check the same way you got your tax refund. If you got a paper check for your tax refund, you’ll get a paper stimulus check mailed to the same address the IRS sent your refund to. If you got your tax refund through direct deposit, your stimulus check will go into the same bank account as your tax refund.  

It may take longer to get your stimulus check if:

  • You were mailed your last tax return
  • You moved since you filed your last tax return
  • Your bank account information has changed since you last filed a tax return
  • You’ve moved since you last filed a tax return, or
  • You haven’t filed a tax return in the last 2 years. 

There could be other things that could delay you getting a stimulus check. 

The IRS is the best source for information about when and how to get your stimulus check

Financial institutions can decide whom to loan money to, how much to loan, and the interest rate if it’s within the law. Interest rates are capped at 36% in Montana. It’s possible lenders operating on an American Indian reservation could charge a higher interest rate. 

It's a good idea to work with a local credit union to get a loan for the lowest interest rate possible. Many credit unions offer credit cards with interest rates lower than large banks. You might also qualify for a personal loan. Money lenders base the terms of their loans on your credit report and credit score. 

If you haven't already, it’s a good idea to file your tax return. It may take three or more weeks to get a tax return, but you may have more money available later. You can find free tax filing software at:

Individuals can reach out to a HUD-certified housing counselor for free, unbiased financial advice.



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Last Review and Update: Jan 08, 2021

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