Here’s what you should know about the CARES Act (H.R. 748) right now.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated March 27, 2020
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With talk of coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, and quarantine everywhere you look (and on everyone’s mind), it’s hard to escape the global concern over the current pandemic. Everyone is (or will be) impacted by the outbreak, even if they haven’t felt the effects yet, and local and federal governments are taking steps to help residents ride out the public health disaster and accompanying economic failures.

Millions of people have filed for unemployment, stocks have plummeted, and businesses—local and national—have already begun to shutter. In one enormous effort to help U.S. taxpayers pay their bills and preserve the economy, Congress today passed the CARES Act, otherwise known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The bill—H.R. 748—was passed unanimously by the Senate on March 25 and by the House of Representatives on March 27; President Trump signed it into law today, March 27.

The historic, $2 trillion stimulus package includes provisions for businesses large and small, hospitals and healthcare services, and American workers, but understanding exactly what it means for you and your family can be challenging. Here are the main takeaways for average U.S. taxpayers and their families.

1
Taxpayers will receive stimulus payments

According to the bill, most adults will receive a one-time (for now) payment of $1,200. Adults with children will receive an additional $500 for every qualifying child 16 or younger. (Future stimulus packages may increase or add to the payments people receive.)

Whether you get the full $1,200 depends on your income: According to The New York Times, single adults must have Social Security numbers, be U.S. residents, and have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less to receive the full amount. (If you’re not sure of your adjusted gross income, check line 8b of your last federal income tax return.) Married couples filing jointly who make less than $150,000 per year total will receive $2,400. Anyone filing as head of household making less than $112,500 per year will also receive the full $1,200.

For those with higher incomes, the payment amount decreases gradually based on income. Individuals making $99,000 or more and married couples with no children making $198,000 or more will not receive payments. Adults who qualify as a dependent will also not receive payments (this may affect college students), and everyone in a family must have a valid Social Security number in order to be eligible.

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2
Payments may take some time

Don’t expect them immediately, but experts predict the payments will arrive in anywhere between three and six weeks. (The bill calls for payments to be made quickly, but in reality it may take some time.)

You do not need to apply for anything: The IRS will use the information from your last tax return to transfer the money directly into your account, as it does with tax refunds. If you have not received your tax refund by direct deposit, your payment may be delayed and arrive by mail; everyone should receive paper notices in the mail a few weeks after their payments are sent to confirm. If you receive a confirmation but have not received your payment, you will need to contact the IRS.

Because the IRS will use tax return info to send payments, if you haven’t filed a tax return recently, now’s a good time to do so, even if it’s 2018’s tax return. The extended tax filing deadline means you have more time to file your 2019 taxes, so now is also a good time to do that, but waiting to do so won’t affect your stimulus check. As long as you have a 2018 tax return on record, your stimulus money should be sent as expected.

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3
Unemployment benefits have been expanded

The CARES Act means more workers are eligible for unemployment benefits than usual, mainly those who are self-employed (aka freelancers) and part-time workers. Essentially, if you were working or had any type of work before the outbreak and no longer do, you are likely to be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Actual benefits depend on the state, but most workers will get an extra $600 per week in addition to their state-offered unemployment benefits. The bill also extends the length for which people can receive unemployment benefits: Many states offer 26 weeks of benefits, and the new package adds 13 weeks. Depending on where you live, you could receive as many as 39 weeks of benefits; the extra $600 unemployment benefits will last until July 31. For more information on what unemployment benefits are available for you, reach out to your state’s unemployment office.