October 23, 2020
Older adults can get stimulus checks: Everything you need to know

Older adults can get stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


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Many older people automatically received a first stimulus payment, but eligibility may change if a second is passed. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

Were older people and retirees eligible for the first round of coronavirus stimulus checks of up to $1,200? And if another bill is passed in Congress, would they qualify for the second stimulus check that could come with it? The answer gets a little complicated, and depends on your tax filings, your AGI, your pension, and whether or not you count as a dependent to the IRS. 

Here’s everything older people and retirees need to know about stimulus check eligibility. You can also check out our tool to help you calculate how much stimulus money you could get, and the most important things you should know about stimulus checks right now. 

Who does the IRS count as a senior citizen?

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

How do you know if you’re eligible for a stimulus check? What if you have a pension or make money from investments?

Whether or not you’re eligible for a stimulus check (and if you are, how much money you could receive) depends on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing. If you have a pension or investments that are taxable, they 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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What counts as my income? 

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

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 are 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.

What if you didn’t get a first check, but should have? 

If you are age 65 or older and qualified for a first stimulus check under the March CARES Act, but did not receive one, you can track the status of your missing payment by visiting the IRS Get My Payment webpage, or try contacting the IRS by phone. 

Do older people need to file tax returns?

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. 

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.)

When should I file taxes if I’m over 65? 

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. 

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


Angela Lang/CNET

How do you know if you count as someone else’s dependent? 

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. 

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. 

Were older people eligible for the first round of stimulus checks? What about veterans, dependents and members of SSI and SSDI programs? 

Yes, with caveats. 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. But if a second check is approved, it’s likely that the main tax filer would get extra money for these dependents (read more below). 

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


Sarah Tew/CNET

Will qualifications change if a second check is passed? 

If a second stimulus payment is approved by Congress, it’s likely that qualifications will remain largely the same for older adults. However, those who count as dependents on someone else’s taxes may be eligible for additional money in a new stimulus package. 

We won’t know exactly how much money would be allotted for dependents until another stimulus package passes. Here’s what we do know: under the Republican-backed HEALS Act, you’d get $500 per dependent, with no cap on the number of dependents who could receive that money. Under the Democratic-backed Heroes Act, you’d get $1,200 per dependent, for up to three people. Both bills would provide these payments for dependents regardless of age, including college students and adult dependents, including potentially elderly relatives who rely on you for care. 

Do you have to be a US citizen to receive a stimulus payment? 

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 refer 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 (more on that below). US citizens living abroad were also eligible for a first payment. 

Reasons you may not have gotten a first stimulus check

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’ll have to fill out the online IRS nonfilers tool by Oct. 15. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until next year and file a tax return for 2020 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 owe 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.

You had a bank overdraft or lien. In some cases, the full stimulus payment was direct 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. 

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

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 could have used the IRS nonfilers tool by Sept. 30 to claim that money. If you missed that deadline you’ll have to wait until 2021 to claim your stimulus payment on behalf of eligible dependents. However, the IRS has said that you shouldn’t use the tool yet if you still plan on filing a 2019 tax return (for instance, if you filed for an Oct. 15 extension), as it will slow down the process.

For more information about stimulus payments, here’s how fast the IRS could send out a second stimulus payment if it passes. And if you still haven’t received your stimulus check and you think it’s lost or missing, try this IRS phone number to file a report.



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