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Stimulus checks and older adults: Third payment eligibility rules for retired people, SSI, veterans

At least one rule change might affect older adults and retirees in a third stimulus check.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Congress is working through the details of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, and the third stimulus check for up to $1,400 it includes. If you’re over age 65 and retired, a veteran or receive Social Security benefits, you might have questions as to whether you and your dependents will qualify for a third check, when your payment could arrive and how much money you could be eligible to receive, particularly if the check arrives in the middle of tax season. We also know how the third stimulus check could be targeted and what that means for you.

If all or part of your first or second stimulus check never arrived, you might want to know how to claim it as an IRS Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return this year — even if you don’t usually have to file taxes

We’ve got all of the information you need about the third check that could affect the amount of money you’re owed, including your tax filingsadjusted gross income, pension, Social Security benefits (such as SSI or SSDI) and whether you count as someone else’s adult dependent. This story was recently updated.

Who does the IRS consider to be an older adult?

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

How can I find out if I’m eligible to receive a stimulus check?

For the first and second stimulus checks, whether you were eligible for any stimulus money (and if you were, how much money you could receive) depended on whether you were considered a dependent and the amount of your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing. 

If you have a pension or investments that are taxable, those 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 isn’t included in your AGI, so it wouldn’t affect your stimulus payment eligibility. 

For a potential third stimulus check, some of the eligibility rules are likely to change — read on for more.


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How much money could I get in a third stimulus check if the eligibility rules change?

There are several ways that qualifications could change with a third stimulus checkBiden’s proposal also includes a payment of up to $1,400 for all dependents, no matter their age, to be added on to the household’s total. That means if you support an adult dependent, for example a college student, you may be able to get a higher stimulus check balance in the next round, if this qualification makes it into the final bill.

The move, if approved, would provide money to households on behalf of an estimated 13.5 million adult dependents, according to the People’s Policy Project.

Biden’s plan also includes families with “mixed-status” citizenship, where members have different immigration statuses. Both of these groups were left out of the first and second stimulus payments.  

Congress is also debating whether it will “target” the checks to households with a lower income threshold, which could impact people who have significant investment income.

Here are other ways some households could potentially get more money with the next stimulus payment or less.

Am I eligible for stimulus money if I’m an SSI or SSDI recipient?

If you’re over age 65 and a recipient of Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you were eligible for a first and second stimulus check, and should be eligible for a third. Find out everything you need to know about how SSI and SSDI impact stimulus checks here

I’m still missing money from the first or second stimulus check. How do I claim it during tax season? 

Now that it’s tax season, if you never received your first or second check by now, you’ll likely need to claim a missing payment using the Recovery Rebate Credit — that includes people who don’t usually file taxes, too. 

However, we recommend getting a little more information by using the IRS’ free Get My Payment online portal to see your stimulus status. If you use the Recovery Rebate Credit, your stimulus allotment will either be bundled with your tax refund or you’ll pay less tax in your return. We recommend filing your taxes as early as possible (here’s why) and registering your bank account for direct deposit with the IRS.

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If you count as someone else’s dependent, you may be eligible for stimulus money in the potential third round of checks.


Angela Lang/CNET

I’m a nonfiler. Do I have to file a tax return this year to claim my missing stimulus payment?

A nonfiler is a person who isn’t required to pay taxes to the IRS during tax season. 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. 

However, if you’re claiming missing stimulus money in a Recovery Rebate Credit, even nonfilers will have to file a tax return this year. You may be able to use a special form and file for free. You will, however, need some specific information.

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 affect your stimulus payment here.)

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).
  • 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. 

What is my ‘gross income’ and how do I find it? 

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

Your gross income doesn’t include any Social Security benefits unless:

  • You’re married but filing separately and lived with your spouse at some point in 2019.
  • Half 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 is 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.

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There are a few reasons why some older adults may not have gotten a first or second stimulus check.


Sarah Tew/CNET

How do I know if someone else claims me as a dependent on their taxes? 

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 stimulus check qualifications for the second payment, the main tax filer would’ve 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. They… 

  • Don’t count as a qualifying child dependent.
  • Live with the family member all year as a member of the household, or count as a relative who doesn’t have to live with the family member all year (such as a parent or grandparent, a stepparent or a sibling).
  • Must have a gross income for the year of less than $4,200.
  • Must have more than half of their support during the year come from the family member.

If you were a dependent on someone else’s taxes and were over the age of 16, you weren’t qualified for any stimulus money at all in the first or second round of stimulus checks. Biden’s current proposal, however, would allow dependents of all ages to be eligible to add up to $1,400 to the household’s total payment

I’m over age 65 and have dependents, but didn’t get money for them in my first or second check. What should I do?

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, or an extra $600 under the December stimulus bill, you’ll have to claim your stimulus payment on behalf of eligible dependents as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

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What counts as income? That depends on your personal circumstances.


Angela Lang/CNET

These groups of older adults were eligible for the previous stimulus payments

And what about veterans, dependents and members of SSI and SSDI programs? 

Social Security recipients and retired railroad workers who weren’t required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 were eligible for the first two stimulus payments — and weren’t 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. The same is true for people who receive Compensation and Pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

People who are part of the Social Security Disability Insurance program who weren’t required to file tax returns for 2018 or 2019 should also have automatically received a first and second stimulus payment. (Find out more about how SSDI impacts stimulus payments here.)  If you didn’t receive all or part of your money, you’ll need to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

However, older people who were claimed as a dependent on 2019 tax forms weren’t eligible for a first or second stimulus check.

I’m not a US citizen but I pay taxes. Am I eligible to get a stimulus payment?

Under the December stimulus bill, non-US citizens, including those who pay taxes, weren’t eligible to receive the $600 payment, unlike with the first round of checks. Under the CARES Actall 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 the IRS refers to as “resident aliens,” green card holders and workers using visas such as H-1B and H-2A. 

If your citizenship status has changed since you first got a Social Security number, you may have to update the IRS’ records to get your check. US citizens living abroad were also eligible for a first payment. 

For the third payment, Biden’s proposal includes checks for “mixed-status” citizenship families — families with members with different immigration statuses — who were left out of the first two checks.

For more, check out what we know so far about a third stimulus check and when the IRS might send a new payment out.


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