If you have a Social Security number and no one can claim you as a dependent, you probably qualify for a coronavirus stimulus check — even if you earn so little money that you aren’t required to file a tax return.
For people who get Social Security benefits, the process will be easy. The IRS will use the information from your benefits statement to determine your eligibility and automatically get the payment to you.
But what if you’re not receiving benefits? The quickest way to get your payment is to file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, even though you weren’t required to.
If you don’t file a return, there will still be a way to apply for the payment, though the IRS hasn’t unveiled that process. The problem is that if you choose this route, you’ll go to the back of the line for the IRS payment schedule.
That could mean waiting until September to receive your coronavirus check, even though the IRS could make the first payments as early as this week.
These payments are up to $1,200 for singles or $2,400 for married couples, plus $500 for dependent children 16 or younger. We’re guessing you could use that cash sooner, rather than later.
There’s an easy solution here, which is to file a simple tax return. Here’s how to do it.
How to File a Simple Tax Return in 5 Steps
If you’ve never filed a tax return or you haven’t done so in years, navigating IRS forms can be intimidating. Adding to the confusion: The IRS hasn’t specified what it means by a “simple tax return.”
But using a number of free online tools (more on these in a moment), you can easily file a return in just a few minutes that gives the IRS the information it needs to get you your payment .
“You’re just going to have to provide some basic info, and it’s stuff you know,” said Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of the personal finance site Money Done Right. “Your name, your dependents’ names, your address, your Social Security number.”
The one piece of information you might not know off the top of your head: the Social Security numbers of your dependents.
As long as you have all that information, you’re ready to get started. Here’s what to do.
1. Find Your Bank Account and Routing Numbers
Technically, you don’t need to provide bank account info to complete a simple tax return. But your stimulus check will get to you a lot faster if you sign up for direct deposit, rather than waiting for the IRS to mail you a paper check.
You should be able to access this information by logging into your bank account online. If you have a checkbook, you can find your nine-digit routing number on the bottom left side of the check. Your bank account number will be just to the right of the routing number. Your account number should also be listed on your bank statements, but you may need to call customer service to get your routing number.
An easier hack for finding your routing number: Google the name of your bank and the words “routing number.” The number may vary by state.
2. Go to the IRS Free File Website
Head to the IRS Free File website, where you’ll find a number of online tools that let you file a return for free. These tools will ask you a few questions to choose the right filing status for you and determine whether you can claim anyone as a dependent.
You can also fill out the forms yourself online, or even print them out and mail them. Trust us, though: It’s way easier to do this using one of the free filing tools.
3. Enter $1 for Your Income if You Didn’t Earn Anything
If you earned money for the year you’re filing for, report that amountthem. Since your earnings were low enough that you weren’t required to file a tax return for the year, you shouldn’t worry about owing income tax.
And if you didn’t earn income? “You’d put $1,” Allec said. “Don’t worry. You’re not going to owe taxes on that dollar.”
4. Input Your Direct Deposit Information
Back to that bank account info that you hopefully gathered: It’s really important that you input that. The tax filing program you use will ask for that information before you file. If you’re manually filling out a form, you’ll enter it on Line 21.
“This is the important part,” Allec said. “No matter when the check comes, direct deposit will come faster than paper checks.”
5. Sign It… and Wait
If you submit your return online, you’ll select a five-digit PIN that will serve as your electronic signature. If you’re printing and mailing your return, don’t forget to physically sign it.
From that point, all you can do is wait. Payments are expected to begin mid-April and could continue into September — but because you’ve taken this important step, you shouldn’t have to wait that long.
Robin Hartill is a senior editor at Codetic and the voice behind the Dear Penny personal finance advice column.