Federal stimulus checks explained

Get ready, here they come. If you’re among the 130 million Americans counting on getting IRS “economic stimulus” checks, take note: The first batches will start going out in six weeks.

Starting May 2, the IRS will begin issuing the first payments — typically $600 for individuals or $1,200 for a couple — for those who file a tax return by April 15.

Here’s a little incentive: If you want it fast, ask for direct deposit when filling out your tax return, advises IRS spokesman Bill Steiner. “Even if you owe money on your taxes, keep in mind that stimulus payments are a separate check,” Steiner says. “So if you’ve asked for direct deposit, it’ll be there significantly faster than the paper check.”

If you opt for direct deposit, the payments will start hitting bank accounts weekly between May 2 and May 16. If you requested a paper check, you’ll have to wait until May 16 for the first checks to be mailed, continuing on a weekly schedule through July 11.

Don’t fret if your check doesn’t arrive at the same time as your neighbor’s. The payment schedule isn’t based on your household income or when you filed, but on a numeric system: the last two digits of your Social Security number.

For instance, if the last two digits of your Social Security number are 37, and you’ve asked for a paper check, it should be in the mail by June 6. (Search online at www.irs.gov to see when it should arrive). If it’s a joint return, the IRS will use the first Social Security number on the tax form.

The stimulus payments are part of a $168 billion plan by the federal government to plump up the deflating economy. The hope is that consumers will spend their one-time windfall freely.

How can you be sure to get one? For most taxpayers who file by April 15, getting a stimulus payment will be automatic. File your taxes and the IRS will compute and process your payment.

If you don’t normally file because you’re retired or on limited income, fill out a Form 1040. It can be found at most libraries, tax preparation centers or by calling the IRS weekdays at 800-829-1040. You must have a Social Security number and at least $3,000 in annual income, including Social Security or certain veterans benefits.

You aren’t eligible if you’re claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax form.

Wondering how much you’ll get? An IRS online calculator asks detailed questions to compute your estimated stimulus check. Find it at www.irs.gov/app/espc. You’ll need your tax form to fill it out. You also can find free online filing help and tax forms at www.irs.gov.

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