What You Need to Know about the CARES Act Stimulus Package

Three weeks into the pandemic-induced statewide shutdown, Illinois families are feeling the financial effects of tens of thousands of lost jobs and lost paychecks. But there is some help coming from local and federal government, including the $2 trillion stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security Act — or the CARES Act. It is intended to distribute emergency funds to Americans in the coming weeks.

Talaat and Tai McNeely, who host the podcast “The His and Her Money Show,” offer common-sense advice to those worried about how they can weather this financial storm. 

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“We’re telling everyone to make sure you secure your four walls. You need to make sure you can keep a roof over your head. Don’t do a lot of unnecessary spending right now. And we do want you to build your emergency fund. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that may have not had an emergency fund in place when all of this started, but it is not too late to get one started,” Tai said.

“It’s also a good idea to contact the people you owe — if you have a car payment, if you have mortgage or rent, if you have credit card payment — contact them, see what programs they have,” Talaat said. “A lot of companies are deferring payments, a lot of companies are cutting interest rates, but you will not know about it because those things will not happen automatically. It’s going to be up to you to be proactive. Contact them and see what help is available.”

But they do advise individuals to take advantage of all the government is offering to keep them afloat, including funds from the CARES Act. “The first thing that’s on everybody’s mind is the stimulus checks,” Talaat said.

Below are tips from the McNeelys on what programs are available and how to apply for funds:

Who’s eligible for stimulus funds from the federal government?

All legal U.S. residents that are not claimed as a dependent or eligible to be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return and can’t earn over a certain dollar amount.

What are the income requirements? What amount of money can people expect? 

Residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) would get a $1,200 ($2,400 for couples).*

The minimum payment for those who qualify is $300 for individuals and $600 for married couples filing a joint income tax return.

Those who receive Social Security (either retirement or disability) but didn’t file a return in 2018 or 2019 (because they earn too little to be required to file), will also receive stimulus checks, based on the information sent to the IRS on 2019 forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099.

The amount decreases by $5 per every $100 earned after that, zeroing out at $99,000. For married couples, the phase-out range is $150,000 to $198,000.

*For people who may not currently qualify due to their 2018 tax return if they haven’t filed their 2019 tax return or do not qualify due to their 2019 tax return, still have a chance to receive the stimulus if their 2020 income drops below the income requirement due to changes with their income. Once they file their 2020 income and it will be applied as a tax credit.

Do people need to apply? Is there a deadline?

You do not have to sign up to receive a stimulus check. The process is automatic for most Americans who qualify. For Americans eligible for stimulus checks, the fastest way to receive it is to make sure they’ve filed a tax return for 2019 or 2018 with bank information so the government can deposit the money directly.

How long will it take to arrive?

The IRS says it will use people’s 2019 returns to calculate eligibility and automatically send the money to those who qualify. If they haven’t filed a 2019 return, it’ll be based on the 2018 return. If they don’t have a bank account, they’ll get a paper check at their last known address.

For individuals who receive the funds via direct deposit since 2018, that money will start moving to them as soon as the week of April 13. The IRS will initiate direct deposits based on the banking information on file. But for Americans who get paper checks by mail or don’t have a direct deposit on file, the wait could be a lot longer — up to five months.

Are there any city or state funds that individuals can apply for?

People who are unemployed will get an extra $600 per week during the pandemic and unemployment eligibility will be extended by up to 13 weeks.

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