Best Ways to Use Your Stimulus Payment

Best Ways to Use Your Stimulus Payment article image.

In response to the economic impacts of the coronavirus, Congress recently passed a massive stimulus package that, among other things, includes funding for a direct one-time payment to many adults.

The payment—which for many Americans will total $1,200 or more—will be disbursed to most U.S. residents over the age of 18 and will serve as a form of financial relief during a difficult economic time.

To help you determine whether you'll get a stimulus payment or how much you'll receive, we've answered some common questions below. If you think you'll receive a stimulus payment, check out the tips below for smart financial choices you can make with your funds.

Am I Eligible for the Stimulus Payment?

U.S. residents with a Social Security number who made less than $99,000 (single filing) or $198,000 (joint filing) in their most recent 2019 or 2018 tax filing are eligible to receive a stimulus payment. The only exception is for young adults who were claimed as a dependent on someone else's taxes; they will not be eligible to receive a payment. Those who receive Social Security are eligible to receive the full payment, as long as their gross income does not exceed the income limits.

You do not have to apply or fill out any forms to receive the payment as long as you've recently filed taxes. The IRS is encouraging those who don't typically file taxes, such as low-income earners and some seniors, to file a "simple" tax return in order to receive payment. If you receive Social Security, however, you do not need to file; the payment will be sent automatically.

Will I Receive the Full Amount?

The amount you receive will be based on your income according to your 2018 or 2019 tax filings. If you've already filed your taxes for 2019, it will be based on your income reported there. If you haven't filed yet, it will be based on your 2018 return.

Americans who filed individually and had an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 will receive the full $1,200. For individuals who made over $75,000, the amount they receive will be reduced by $50 dollars for every $1,000 over $75,000 they made up to $99,000.

Stimulus Payment Income Schedule
Adjusted Individual Gross IncomeStimulus Payment
$75,000 and under$1,200
$99,000 or moreNot eligible

Married joint filers who had an adjusted gross income of up to $150,000 could be eligible to receive $2,400. Reduced payments will be given to married couples who make between $150,000 and $198,000, after which couples won't get a payment. People who filed as "head of household" could receive $1,200 if they made $112,500 or less. Parents eligible for the payment will receive $500 extra for each qualifying child.

To calculate exactly how much you may receive in your stimulus payment, check out this online calculator.

How Should I Use My Stimulus Payment?

For many Americans, the stimulus payment will serve as a vital lifeline, helping them pay their mortgage or rent, or purchase food and other essential goods. For others, it will offer an opportunity to pay down debt or shore up their savings. Depending on your situation, one or more of these strategies could help improve your financial outlook.

1. Take Care of Your Essential Needs

First and foremost, it's important to use this money to take care of yourself and the people in your household, making sure that you maintain your health and keep a roof over your head. If you're experiencing financial hardship, consider using this money first to pay for essentials like housing, food, utilities and medicine. If you're still leaving the house for work, these essentials could also include things like gas, auto insurance and other related expenses that you need for everyday life.

2. Make Debt Payments

If your essentials are covered, you can use this money to ensure you make all your debt payments, such as credit cards, auto loans and debts. Remember, making at least your minimum payment is better than missing a payment or making a late one. Many lenders are also offering relief measures right now to those affected by the coronavirus crisis, so even if you don't think you'll miss a payment, it might be helpful to contact them to find out if you have the option to conserve your cash for future essential expenses. Just be sure you know the terms of any possible relief measures your providers are offering.

"It's important to understand that, although you may not have to make payments, interest could still accrue when your account is in forbearance," says Rod Griffin, Experian's senior director of consumer education. "If it does, you will have to repay that interest, which could cause you to pay more over time. However, that may be a worthwhile compromise to protect your credit through this difficult period."

If you don't think you'll be able to make a payment, let your lender know in advance, as they may be able to work with you on a solution.

3. Save for Future Expenses

In this unprecedented and ever-evolving situation, having extra savings could come in handy should any unexpected expenses arise. If you have money left over after buying essentials and paying your bills, consider putting it into a savings account you can use to cover expenses in coming months.

"Times of crisis often create emotional voids that some people tend to fill with spending," according to Griffin. "So, it's important to recognize if a purchase is a need that will get you through the next few weeks or months or a want that can be postponed for a later time."

Resources That Can Help

According to officials, stimulus payments should go out within the next three weeks and will be delivered via direct deposit or physical check. The payments will come from the IRS; more information and updates can be found on the coronavirus page on the IRS website.

For more information on the full law—which includes information on emergency small business loans, student loans and unemployment relief—visit this link on Congress's website.