Tax Guide

Federal Stimulus FAQ: Who Is Eligible, How Much Money Will They Get? U.S Based Taxpayers, Expats, Non-residents & More

Federal Stimulus FAQ: Who Is Eligible, How Much Money Will They Get? U.S Based Taxpayers, Expats, Non-residents & More
Ines Zemelman, EA
26 March 2020

Update: The IRS has reversed their stance and senior citizens, Social Security recipients, and railroad retirees who are not otherwise required to file a return will not have to. 

Update 2: IRS Reverses stance, introduces tool for non-filers (those who are below minimum filing requirements) to provide information where to send stimulus payments. Important - if you have a filing requirement - DO NOT USE THIS TOOL.

Update 3: IRS Get My Payment Tool Released. See flow-chart below to determine if you are eligible to use it.

Update 4: How to Navigate IRS Get Payment Page & Changes for Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Update 5: Couples with NRA spouses have to choose - file jointly and lose stimulus eligibility or file separately and possibly pay higher tax

Update 6: IRS releases guidance on how to return erroneous stimulus checks

Update 7: Helpful tips on cashing IRS checks from abroad

Update 8: IRS will be sending prepaid debit cards to some taxpayers.

Update 9: IRS adds 3,500 to agents accept phone calls from taxpayers about the economic impact payments

Update 10: International mail outages due to COVID

Update 11: Payment issued, but not received

Update 12: IRS issues clarification: no need to pay back stimulus check if 2020 income makes taxpayer ineligible

Part of the proposed package includes direct monetary payments from Uncle Sam to US Taxpayers. We explain in detail below who is eligible, what they can expect, when they can expect it, and if they will have to pay tax.

Update 13: IRS issues guidance for what to do if you are unable to cash the check abroad. 

Update 14: Congress passes new bill - New $600 stimulus check possible.

Update 15: Mixed-status families expected to receive stimulus checks retroactively.

Second stimulus check: $600

On Dec 20, 2020 Congress passed a new stimulus bill which will include additional direct payments to taxpayers. We have released a preliminary article on this matter and will update as soon as details emerge and the President signs it.

Who is eligible for stimulus checks?

US tax residents with social security numbers, residing anywhere in the world, will receive checks depending on their income, which we outline below. Those with ITIN will not be eligible.

  Filing mandatory 
  • To be eligible, you must have filed a return in 2018 or 2019.  If you have not yet filed, the IRS urges you to do so now.
  • Those who do not file because they are below minimum filing thresholds do not need to file to receive economic impact payment. IRS introduces new tool to enter payment info for non-filers.
    • Minimum filing thresholds include income from all sources, anywhere in the world
    • November 21, 2020, at 3 p.m. ET Deadline to Request Your Economic Impact Payment
  • Delinquent taxpayers with filing requirements will not receive payments unless a return is filed. 
  • If filing a joint return, Both spouses on a joint return must have SSN 
    • Neither spouse is eligible for the economic impact payment on a joint return when either spouse has either an ITIN or an SSN that is not valid for employment, unless one spouse is a member of the US Armed Forces

How much will taxpayers receive?

The amount taxpayers will receive today will depend on their 2019 income (if already filed), or 2018 if not. If the amount received is less than the full amount to which the individual is entitled, the individual will be able to claim an additional amount based on his or her 2020 tax return when the individual files it in 2021. When individuals file their 2020 tax return in 2021, they can refer to Notice 1444 and claim additional credits on the 2020 tax returns if they are eligible for them

If the IRS used the 2018 return and determined that the taxpayer is not eligible for a payment, and the taxpayer later files a 2019 return that changes the eligibility - the IRS will not issue the payment in 2020, but the taxpayer can claim the amounts based on their 2020 returns in 2021 if they remain eligible.

The figure to look at is the amount of adjusted gross income (Line 8b). If you earned less than the first table (low threshold), you will receive the full amount. The amount is reduced by $5 for every $100 exceeding the lower threshold. Once you reach the upper threshold (right column), the amount is completely phased out. If you filed your 2019 return, the numbers will be based on that. If you have not, the 2018 figure will be used. If you have not filed - get in touch with us ASAP to get started.

If you have no income, you will still be eligible for a check if you have no income or if you rely solely on non-taxable government benefit programs (such as Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI))

Lower threshold and below: $1,200 per adult & $500 per child under the age of 17

In between: Phase out reduction of $5 per $100 exceeding lower threshold.

Above upper threshold: $0

Stimulus Check Amounts
Filing Status Lower Threshold Upper Threshold
Individuals (includes MFS, QW) Less than $75,000 $99,000
Head of Household  Less than $112,500 $136,500
Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) Less than $150,000 $198,000

What if my 2020 income will be different?

On Aug 3, 2020 - the IRS issued a clarification that there will be no need to pay back all or some of the Stimulus payment if information reported on the 2020 return would make the taxpayer ineligible to qualify for the stimulus payment. 

Who will not receive stimulus checks?

  • Anyone without a social security number
  • Non-Resident Aliens
  • Households do not receive money for adult dependents, such as elderly relatives or adult children with disabilities.

How do I sign up?

You don't. There's no sign up. The payments will be automatic for those who qualify. You do not need to call the IRS.  See the special website the IRS created for coronavirus updates.

Is there a phone number to call?

In general, no. There are millions of Americans trying to contact the IRS and we expect it will be very difficult. However, on May 18th the IRS announced that they will add 3,500 telephone representatives to answer some of the most common questions about Economic Impact Payments.

The economic impact payment information line is 800-919-9835.

Will the stimulus money be taxed?

No. The stimulus money is not considered income.

How will I receive the money? Check or via electronic deposit?

If you have received a tax refund via direct deposit in the past, the IRS has your bank account information and once details are finalized, they are expected to direct deposit the payments, to those eligible, to their bank accounts. 

  • Direct deposit if the IRS has bank account information from prior refunds
    • New Tool introduced to provide information to update information if they do not (see flow-chart below)
  • Social Security recipients who are not required to file a return: IRS will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099
  • The IRS will NOT be reviewing your FBAR or 8938 bank account information to find direct deposit information.
  • If not, check mailed to "last known address"
    • Some recipients will receive prepaid debit cards
    • It is not possible to request debit cards - the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) will determine which taxpayers will receive a debit card. 
    • There are currently mail outages from the United States to over 20 countries due to COVID
  • If you are below filing thresholds, complete the online IRS form
    • DO NOT USE THIS FORM if you plan on filing a 2019 return. It will prevent you from being able to e-file and you may be required to file an amended return.

If not, the IRS will mail a check to your "last known address". Some recipients will receive prepaid debit card known as "The Economic Impact Payment Card". If you receive an Economic Impact Payment Card, it will arrive in a plain envelope from “Money Network Cardholder Services.”  The front of the card will say Visa & the back will have the name of the issuing bank, Metabank. 

The Visa name will appear on the front of the Card; the back of the Card has the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank®, N.A. Information included with the Card will explain that the card is your Economic Impact Payment Card.  

If the IRS does not have your direct deposit information, see the flow-chart below to see if the Get Payment tool is right for you.

The fastest way to get updated information to the IRS would be to file your 2019 return.

Reminder: Your refund should only be deposited directly into accounts that are in your own name, your spouse’s name or both if it’s a joint account. Trying to deposit a tax refund into a bank or financial account with a different name can be seen as a red flag for fraudulent activity

Unable to cash check abroad

The IRS has issued guidance that if you opted for a physical check and are unable to cash it, the payment will be credited back to your account, but cannot be reissued as a direct deposit. If the IRS receives your payment back, you would need to claim the recovery rebate credit when you file your 2020 tax return (in 2021), if eligible based on your 2020 filing. The IRS can only deposit to a U.S. affiliated bank account.

Note - please review our article on how to cash IRS checks abroad before returning the check to the IRS

To return the paper check:

  1. Write "Void" in the endorsement section on the back of the check.
  2. Mail the voided Treasury check immediately to the following address (if you live abroad):

    Austin Internal Revenue Service
    3651 S Interregional Hwy 35
    Austin, TX 78741
  3. Don't staple, bend, or paper clip the check.
  4. Include a brief explanation stating the reason for returning the check (unable to cash check abroad) 

Payment Issued but not received - request payment trace

First, if your payment was due to be direct deposit, confirm that it was not received by your bank. 

If the Get My Payment tool says it was issued, but you have not received it and more than the specified number of days (list below) have elaped, you may request a payment trace.

 Date thresholds for trace 
  1. 5 days since the scheduled deposit date
  2. 4 weeks since it was mailed by check to a standard address
  3. 6 weeks since it was mailed, and you have a forwarding address on file with the local post office
  4. 9 weeks since it was mailed, and you have a foreign address

Payment trace logistics

Which IRS tool is right for you?

How to navigate IRS Get My Payment tool


  IRS Tool Tips & Tricks 
  1. Many taxpayers with refunds apply those refunds to estimated taxes in future years. If you have done so, please put 0 for the amount of refund, not the actual overpayment amount that the IRS owes you.
  2. Do not put anything other than the street address in the address line. Do not add dashes, special characters. Taxpayers, especially outside of the U.S., often have many characters in their address. When using the IRS tool to locate yourself in the system, only use numbers & the street name.

When will I receive the money?

Press briefings have indicated 3 weeks if the IRS is able to do direct deposit. Paper checks will inevitably take longer, especially for those residing abroad.

After the payment is paid, the IRS will mail a letter to the taxpayer’s last known address within 15 days. The letter will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive the payment. If unsure if it is legitimate, please visit first.

The IRS just released a tool to check payment status (see flow chart above to see if it's for you). Importantly - if the IRS has your information on file, you cannot update the direct deposit info

  • Check payment status
  • Confirm payment type: direct deposit or check
  • Enter bank account information for direct deposit if direct deposit information is not on file and payment has not yet been mailed.

Additional FAQ:

Is it better to estimate my 2019 taxes now (since I won't receive my XXX tax return until June), or should I file the extension, and let the stimulus check be based on my 2018 return?

We recommend to file an extension now, and file your 2019 return as soon as you are ready. In the end, the final amount of money you receive will be clarified on your 2020 tax return (in 2021). But, if your 2018 return made you ineligible for a stimulus, and your 2019 return would make you eligible, you should file your 2019 return ASAP to get money now instead of spring 2021 (in the form of a refund on your 2020 return).

I've never had a refund (I've always paid tax) - will the stimulus check be sent to the address on my return?

Yes - the funds will be sent to the last known address. See above question When will I receive my money for information on the IRS tool to update direct deposit information.

Can someone still qualify if they are Married filing Separately?

 Yes, If you filed Married filing Separately, for the Stimulus check you will qualify as Single.

How can I get my address changed, or update my bank account or have my funds sent electronically to my bank account?

File your 2019 return as soon as possible.  

Please see the flow-chart above to determine if the IRS tool to update information is possible for you.

I have never filed my taxes since I moved from the US 3+ years ago and I need to receive the stimulus check, what do I do?

If you are not in the system, the IRS won't be able to determine if you are eligible.

To become current with your taxes, you can begin that process with the IRS amnesty program. You can read more about this program and sign up here:

I am not required to file a return & used the Non-Filer tool to provide information. I received the $1200/$2400 payment (couple), but did not receive $500 EIP for each child. What do I do?

If you used the Non-filers tool prior to May 17, 2020 - the IRS will automatically issue the additional $500 EIP per qualifying child to affected individuals in early August. Direct deposit payments are scheduled for August 5, 2020, and paper checks are scheduled to be mailed August 7, 2020. You can use Get My Payment to check the status of the $500 EIP per qualifying child, and you will receive another Notice 1444 in the mail letting you know the $500 EIP per qualifying child was issued. Keep this letter for your records.

If you used the Non-Filers tool on or after May 17, 2020, your EIP included $500 per qualifying child.


Do I still qualify if I am a US expat living abroad, but don't have to file a tax return because I receive only social security, or SSI (Supplemental Security Income to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income)?

Yes, you qualify. The IRS will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 to generate Economic Impact Payments to recipients of benefits reflected in the Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 who are not required to file a tax return and did not file a return for 2018 or 2019. This includes senior citizens, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are not otherwise required to file a tax return. 

Ines Zemelman, EA
founder of Taxes for Expats