Seniors can still get stimulus check

July 15, 2008|By Susan Tompor | Susan Tompor,Detroit Free Press

Some low-income seniors need to know that it's not too late to make a move to get a stimulus check.

Thousands of low-income seniors and disabled veterans won't be seeing the stimulus checks they deserve simply because they didn't file the proper paperwork. Luckily, there's time to file a 2007 federal income tax return and still get $300 - or $600 for those married and filing jointly - this year.

To receive your stimulus payment in 2008, you must file Form 1040A by Oct. 15.

"We are going the extra mile to help those remaining retirees and disabled veterans get their payments," said Luis D. Garcia, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman in Detroit.

The IRS is working with the AARP, the National Council on Aging, the United Way of America, the National Disability Institute and others to reach out to eligible retirees and veterans.

Nationwide, about 5.2 million low-income seniors and disabled veterans - or about 26 percent eligible - have yet to file their 2007 returns to get their federal rebates. Contrary to rumors, the IRS notes that seniors who don't normally need to file a return will not owe any taxes on their stimulus payment. Getting a stimulus payment alone would not have any effect on eligibility for federal benefits.

It is possible, however, that the stimulus check or direct deposit could be smaller than you expect.

When it comes to back taxes, the stimulus payment is treated like any other tax refund. So, all or part of the stimulus payment could be used to cover past-due federal or state income taxes or non-tax federal debt such as student loans and child support. The IRS will send a notice explaining how your payment was figured.

Peter Barlow, site supervisor at the Accounting Aid Society's Osborn Neighborhood Tax Center in Detroit, said some low-income clients are concerned about how payments could be used to pay old debts. He's heard some people say: "I don't want them to take my money, so I don't want to file."

But he suggests that it is possible to file as an injured spouse if you're filing a joint tax return with your spouse who has a past-due obligation. This way you could ensure that you still get your share of the stimulus payment, even if your spouse's portion covers some debt. See Form 8379 "Injured Spouse Allocation."

So far, the IRS has issued 76.5 million stimulus payments totaling $63.8 billion to all taxpayers.

To be eligible for a stimulus payment, a federal income tax return for 2007 must show at least $3,000 in qualifying income, such as earned income, Social Security benefits, certain veterans' benefits and certain Railroad Retirement benefits.

Supplemental Security Income is not qualifying income.

For people such as retirees who have no tax liability or filing requirement, there is a minimum payment of $300 or $600 for married couples. Some also may be eligible for an additional $300 for each qualifying child.

When you don't normally file a federal income tax return, of course, it can seem overwhelming.

Things probably looked even more intimidating when seniors and others saw the eight-page instruction booklet that the IRS put out entitled 2007 Information about Economic Stimulus Payments for Social Security, Veterans and other Beneficiaries.

The process is simpler than the booklet looks. People need to file a Form 1040A with only a few lines of information. Across the top of the form you need to write the words "Stimulus Payment."

You are not eligible for an economic stimulus payment if you do not have a valid Social Security number. To file as a "married filing jointly," both spouses must have a valid Social Security number.

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