Millions won’t get full coronavirus stimulus checks — what to do if you need money

Not everyone will get a stimulus payment, but there are ways you can free up cash. (iStock)

True or false: every American gets a stimulus check during the coronavirus pandemic? The answer is false.

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Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sent roughly 80 million people their coronavirus stimulus payments via direct deposit during the week of April 13 to April 17, millions of Americans are still anxiously waiting for their checks. However, millions of adults are not eligible to receive the full $1,200 stimulus payment or any relief money at all.

The stimulus package — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act  — provides cash payments to millions of Americans, in an effort to encourage consumer spending and prop up the economy.

What to do if you don’t get stimulus money

If you’re not eligible for a stimulus check but need money to pay essential living expenses — read: food, housing, clothing and health care — you have a few options.

Apply for a personal loan

One tactic is to apply for a personal loan. Personal loans usually have lower interest rates than credit cards, but they tend to have higher rates than home equity loans or HELOCs and they come with origination fees.

If you're interested in going the personal loan route, you should do some research before committing to a lender. Credible can help you compare rates within minutes to find the best deal. You just need to insert your desired loan amount and estimated credit score into the table below.

Credible’s online personal loan calculator can help determine how much you'll be eligible to borrow and give you a ballpark estimate on how much your monthly payments will be.

Open a credit card

Alternatively, you could open a credit card to cover living expenses temporarily and you may be able to qualify for a card that has a 0 percent introductory interest rate.

Find the right credit card for you — whether you want to focus on rewards, cash back, low interest or more — by plugging in your estimated credit score range and narrowing down options based on your needs.

However, keep in mind this strategy can backfire if you accrue so much credit card debt that you can’t pay back the money.

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Apply for unemployment federal benefits 

If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, you should absolutely apply for unemployment benefits with your state. Under the CARES act, unemployment benefits have been increased by $600 a week for up to four months, on top of the amount you'd normally get under the rules in the state where you worked.

Take out a HELOC loan

If you have equity in your house, you may qualify for a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or home equity loan. That would be a quick way to free up cash but bear in mind that you’ll have to pay the money back — and you’ll pay interest on what you borrow until the loan is repaid.

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However, it's worth noting it's much quicker to obtain funds via a personal loan over a HELOC. You also don't need to be a homeowner to qualify for a personal loan — thus you aren't putting your property in jeopardy if you're unable to make payments on time.

Tap into retirement

Another option to consider is tapping a retirement account. Usually, financial experts recommend people do this only as a last resort, but the stimulus package allows individuals to withdraw up to $100,000 in retirement assets, including from 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), without paying the standard 10 percent penalty for taking out money before age 59½. This is only applicable so long as the withdrawal is linked to a financial hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as a layoff.

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Who isn’t getting a stimulus check?

Checks won’t go out to everyone. According to the Tax Foundation, nearly 94 percent of Americans are eligible for some amount of relief. So, who comprises the other 6 percent?

Five groups of people won’t receive stimulus checks:

  • High-income earners: Single adults with an earned income of $99,000 or more and couples with an earned income of $198,000 or more won’t get stimulus money, even if they recently got laid off or furloughed. 
  • Dependents aged 17 or older: However, parents receive $500 per dependent child age 16 or under as of Dec. 31, 2019.
  • Most college students: In most cases, college students are claimed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, and dependents aren’t eligible for a stimulus check.
  • Most non-citizens: You don't have to be a U.S. citizen to get a payment, but you do need a valid Social Security number — meaning nonresident aliens and immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally won't receive a stimulus check. The exception to the rule is green-card holders.
  • Some disabled or elderly adults: People who receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or Veterans Affairs are eligible for stimulus payments, but disabled adults who are claimed as dependents on a family member’s taxes are not eligible. Elderly adults who are claimed as dependents on a relative’s taxes are also not eligible.

Where's my refund? 

Taxpayers earning up to $75,000 a year are eligible to receive $1,200 per adult ($2,400 for married couples who file jointly and earn up to $150,000), plus $500 for each child under the age of 17. You can receive the money quicker if you have set up direct deposits or included your banking information when filing your taxes. After the $75,000 or $150,000 earned income limit is reached, the economic impact payments shrink by $5 for every $100 of income. And if a single adult earns $99,000 or more — or if a couple earns $198,000 or more — with no dependents, the payment drops to $0.

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The government is using 2019 tax returns to determine eligibility or 2018 returns for those who haven't filed for 2019 yet. Qualifications are based on a person’s adjusted gross income (AGI), which is their total income (from wages, as well as dividends, capital gains, and other income sources) minus certain deductions, such as student loan interest and retirement account contributions.

What to do if you didn’t receive a stimulus check but believe you qualify

If you haven’t received payment yet but believe you qualify for one, check the IRS website’s Get My Payment application to see if you’re eligible. You’ll have to provide your information to the IRS including date of birth, Social Security number and home address.

Your payment may be held up if the IRS doesn’t have your bank account’s direct deposit information, which you can provide through its website. Anyone who doesn’t provide direct deposit information will receive their check in the mail, but it could take several months for all paper checks to be issued due to printing volume limitations, The Associated Press reported.

Currently, there is no appeals process for stimulus check disputes.