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How to Get Your Security Deposit Back from Your Landlord

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

This blog does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

Here’s how I almost lost $900 — and my sanity — to a malicious New York City landlord. Without warning or reason, he refused to return my security deposit. It’s not a completely unique story, however.

“Calls about landlords and security deposits are one of the most common calls we get,” said Andrea Shapiro, Program Manager at Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenants’ rights membership organization and hotline in New York City. “Mainly the landlord is just refusing to return it, but often people call because they are concerned it’s going to happen to them.”

In the end, I was able to get my security deposit back thanks to a lot of research and hard work. So if you find yourself in this same tricky situation, I hope that my story below, plus a walk through the steps you can take and some attorney tips, can help smooth the road ahead for you.

How I got my security deposit back from my landlord

It was my first time moving apartments, and I was new to the world of renting in New York. When I moved in, I had been told I would get my security deposit back 45 days after the end of the lease. Knowing that I had left my room in pristine condition, I naively believed that with processes seemingly already in place, my deposit would be returned to me promptly and smoothly.

But 45 days passed me by without a word from my landlord, and all my emails had gone unanswered. After 90 days, I started to get anxious. Finally I received an email from someone at the management company with whom I had never spoken. They did not know I had contacted them before, which apartment I’d lived in, my move out date, or the deposit amount. They were clearly grasping at straws trying to find a reason to not return the deposit.

Fed up, I visited the office in person to demand my deposit back. I still believed that the issue could be resolved civilly and smoothly. After a few phone calls and much shuffling of paperwork, the management company’s representative told me it was because I had moved out early (I hadn’t). She added that it was also because the current tenants hadn’t given their deposit (they had). I left the office, desperately wishing I had yelled “I’ll see you in court!” on my way out.

Left with no other choice, I filed a claim in small claims court and proceeded to gather all the documents related to my lease and apartment.

Then one afternoon, I received an email from the management company: “The landlord has instructed me to write you a check for your deposit amount and he would like for you to end the court case immediately.”

I knew I hadn’t won yet — I would wait until that check was deposited and cleared to celebrate. But after one two-hour-long office visit, six emails and several incompetent mix-ups later, I finally had my security deposit check in my hand, 10 months after I originally moved out of the apartment.

If you’re going through a similar ordeal, know that you’re not alone. There are plenty of resources available to help you get your security deposit back, too.

Here’s how to get your security deposit back from your landlord, from the innocent start to the tired finish.

How to get your security deposit back from your landlord

Confirm the legal deadline

State laws dictate how long landlords have to return a security deposit. For example, in New York, a landlord has 14 days after a tenant vacates the property, while Maryland landlords have 45 days after the lease ends.

To streamline the process, ask your landlord how they’ll return your deposit and give them a return address at the same time you tell them you’re moving out. Hopefully, that will prevent any further delays when it comes time to return the deposit.

Note, however, that in order to receive the full deposit back, there must not be any additional damage to the property, other than normal wear and tear. Otherwise, your landlord may choose to return only a portion of the deposit, if at all.

Communicate with your landlord directly

Contact your landlord directly to discuss the matter, especially if you disagree with their decision regarding your deposit.

“Written correspondence, either by mail or email, is almost always best,” said Ann O’Connell, attorney and Legal Editor at Nolo. “If you have pictures or video of the rental’s condition at move-in and move-out, or if you filled out a walk-through checklist, consider sending those to support your argument.” Start collecting receipts, invoices and pictures around now; they’ll be crucial evidence throughout this process.

O’Connell also recommended reminding landlords of the consequences they could face for wrongfully withholding a deposit such as severe fines, damages and/or court costs.

File a complaint with the attorney general

If you can’t reach an agreement or if your landlord stops responding, but don’t want to take it to court, try filing a complaint with your state’s attorney general first. The AG’s office can review the case and intervene on your behalf if your landlord has violated state law.

What you’ll need to get your security deposit back

Unfortunately, landlords can be tricky and may try to keep that deposit no matter what. This is where your evidence — receipts, pictures, emails — comes in handy. Collect any documentation that shows the deposit amount and that you paid the deposit, like a bank statement, invoice or receipt. O’Connell also suggested bringing a few copies of your lease or rental agreement to court, too. Print out all your correspondence with the landlord, especially relating to the security deposit. Make sure the print outs show the date and who sent the message.

In my case, I also had a letter of recommendation from the management company to my new landlord. It stated that I had made every rent payment on time and had left the apartment in good shape.

You may have the chance to bring witnesses to court. This isn’t always necessary, but if you have witnesses willing and ready to help you out, this could be a valuable asset. For example, if someone helped you move in and move out, they can testify to the property’s condition on both ends. Be sure to notify witnesses beforehand, so they’re not surprised by a court subpoena.

How to get your security deposit back from your landlord in small claims court

Typically, small claims court is the place to take your security deposit dispute, as it’s often for claims around $5,000 to $10,000.

File your claim

Small claims forms are either online or at your county’s small claims offices (see an example of New York City’s form here). You’ll typically need to provide your own information, including your name and full address, as well as the landlord’s full and correct name and address on the form, which you should confirm with the county clerk or your state’s secretary of state website before submitting. You’ll also indicate on the form the amount you’re suing for and the nature of the claim (your security deposit). You can either mail in your form or drop it off in person to the appropriate offices.

Once you file your claim, the court will serve the landlord with court documents. If your landlord is like mine, he’ll be scared of having a court case on his record and will hopefully pay up before you even make it to court.

“Most landlords don’t want to end up in court,” O’Connell agreed. “If you’ve been a good tenant and have at least a plausible argument, it’s likely you’ll be able to reach a compromise outside of court. Many times all it takes is a formal demand.”

Some states require you to serve the papers yourself or get someone to serve them for you. If you’re organizing it, make sure you follow all the court’s rules carefully.

“Serving the landlord with the correct documents and in the correct manner is very important,” O’Connell cautioned. “Failure to follow proper procedure can result in the court dismissing your case.”

You can serve papers through the U.S. Postal Service, courier service or a process server. A process server can be a proper officer, like a sheriff or marshal, or anyone not related to the case who is 18 years or older. Always obtain confirmation of delivery, especially if you’re using the post office or courier service.

Prepare for court

In addition to gathering evidence, O’Connell suggests sitting in the audience of a few small claims court trials, which are often open to the public. Observing a trial or two can give you an idea of what to expect.

If you plan to bring a witness or two, make sure you know what they’re going to say. You don’t want to be surprised by anything they say in court, especially if it weakens your argument.

Finally, you have one chance to sue your landlord, so know the facts of your situation inside and out. Perhaps create notecards with your main points for clarity and conciseness for when you speak to the judge. Organize your papers in order of how you’ll present them and make sure there are enough copies to go around.

Do I need a lawyer for small claims court?

Small claims courts are designed to be affordable with relaxed rules, making it easier for the everyday person to present their own case.

“Lawyers are rarely the right approach when it comes to small claims court,” said Michael Vraa, managing attorney and hotline director for HOME Line, a free tenant hotline in Minnesota. “They’re really designed for people, not attorneys.”

Some courts even make it hard for a lawyer to appear on someone’s behalf. So unless you have access to a free or low-cost lawyer, it’s probably not worth your time or money to hire a lawyer.

If you require a lawyer or extra legal help, several housing advocacy groups provide free or low-cost services to tenants, like HOME Line, Housing Rights Center (Los Angeles) and The Legal Aid Society (New York City).

Present your case in court

Show up to your court date prepared and on time. Check the posted schedule and wait for your case to be called. Once it’s your turn, you (as the plaintiff) will present your case first. Start with the basics of the case: the amount being pursued and the reason for the case. For example, start with something like, “This case is about the landlord’s failure to return my $900 security deposit without reason.” That way, the judge knows up front exactly what the case is about.

The judge will question you, the landlord and any witnesses. During your case, both you and the landlord will have time to speak. It’s best to not interrupt when someone else is speaking, even if they say something false or outrageous. Your case is stronger when you’re cool, calm and collected and presented with facts and evidence.

What happens if you win your case?

Congrats! Now what? “If you do end up in court and you win, as long as the landlord is reasonably professional (or cares about his or her reputation), they will most likely return the deposit as directed by the court order,” O’Connell said.

If the landlord still does not return the deposit, you might have to pursue collection efforts. This can get pretty involved, O’Connell said, and opens up another whole can of worms.

What happens if you lose?

You can usually appeal the decision, but it will depend on the law where you live. “You’ll have to do some serious evaluation about whether it’s worth your time and money to appeal or otherwise continue to pursue the matter,” O’Connell said. You may need to rework your argument, or perhaps you were in the wrong. Plus, as O’Connell added, “the chances of being successful on appeal are usually low.”

How to get your security deposit back from your landlord in mediation

Mediation is a lower-level alternative to presenting your case in court, especially if emotions or an informal agreement are involved. You can choose mediation ahead of your court date, or even sometimes day-of. Small claims court may automatically send some cases to mediation, as well. It requires both parties to sign a consent form and acknowledge that it is confidential and voluntary.

Instead of presenting your evidence to an unbiased party, like a judge, mediation focuses on hearing both sides and coming to a decision together. “Often, the people we see in mediation are just looking for more time to be heard,” said Samantha Adler, Program Manager for Civil Court Diversion, Community & Lemon Law at the New York Peace Institute. “We make sure there’s never a power imbalance in a room to even the playing field.”

Both sides get ample, uninterrupted time to provide their perspective. Throughout, the mediator doesn’t tell either side what to do, and often they don’t even make a decision. “Our model is to try to get parties to make a decision for themselves,” said Nick Schmitt, who also serves as a program manager at the New York Peace Institute.

If you reach a mutual decision, both parties sign a settlement agreement. If not, the case goes back to small claims. If you missed your scheduled court time, you’ll adjourn that date (which might have happened anyway if the court ran out of time, Schmitt said). Your mediator can provide further legal referrals and resources if you ask. Usually, though, “people end up leaving pretty content with what happened,” both Adler and Schmitt noted. Mediation allows both parties for more room to find areas for some give and take.

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Banking

COVID-19 Relief Package: What Congress and Banks Are Offering

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

American taxpayers can finally expect some relief heading their way, thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law two months after the coronavirus (COVID-19) first appeared in the U.S. This $2 trillion financial relief package seeks to provide assistance to affected taxpayers as well as small businesses and corporations.

In addition to the government’s efforts, banks across the country have also stepped up. To help you navigate these challenging times and make sure you’re aware of all potential resources, we’ve compiled the latest information on the government’s relief packages and relief plans from the big banks.

We will continue to update this page as the situation evolves.

One-time stimulus checks

Taxpayers’ long-awaited direct payments, or recovery rebates, will be determined by their most recent tax return. For many, this will be your 2019 tax return, since we have yet to file taxes for 2020. If you have not yet filed your 2019 tax return, the government will turn to your 2018 return instead.

How much you’ll get: For individuals, the plan will provide one-time direct payments of $1,200 ($2,400 for joint returns) to those with an annual income of $75,000 or less. Payments will decrease incrementally for those who made more than $75,000 and will stop altogether for individuals who earned more than $99,000. Individuals will also receive an additional $500 per child.

To find the estimated amount of your recovery rebate check, drag your cursor along the line below to your corresponding income amount. We also have a stimulus check calculator you can use to determine your payment amount.

How to sign up: For most taxpayers, there’s no need to sign up for this. All you need is a valid Social Security number to receive these relief rebates. The IRS will distribute these payments based on information from your most recent tax return.

If you receive Social Security benefits or do not typically file a tax return, the IRS will use the information on your 1099 Social Security forms (Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099) to determine your payments. Individuals who qualify with these forms will not receive additional payments for dependents, as the forms do not disclose dependent information. The IRS includes senior citizens, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees in this group. If that does not include you but you typically don’t file a tax return, you may want to file a simple tax return as soon as possible to receive the economic impact payments.

In conjunction with the IRS, the U.S. Treasury Department has plans to create an online portal where individuals can submit their most recent banking information to the IRS. Check back here or the IRS’s coronavirus information page for updates.

How you’ll get the check: Depending on what you requested on your tax return, the IRS will send the payment either via direct deposit or a paper check. If your address or bank account information has changed since 2018, file your 2019 tax return as soon as possible, if you haven’t already.

When the checks will come: As of now, taxpayers can expect to see payments sometime in April.

Are the checks taxed? These recovery rebates are considered advanced tax credits for 2020 and should not be taxed for most. Since the payment amounts are determined based on your previous tax returns, however, the payments could be subject to adjustment if you earned more or less this year compared to prior years.

For example, if you received too large of a rebate proportionate to your most recent income, you could end up owing back the excess. However, it is so far expected that taxpayers will not have to return or pay tax on any portion of these rebates, regardless of income changes. If you receive a payment that is too low, you also may be able to receive a tax credit from your 2020 taxes to make up the difference.

Expanded unemployment benefits

For starters, individuals who have found themselves unable to work as a result of COVID-19, including those who are sick, quarantined or taking care of family members, will be able to collect unemployment, extending those benefits beyond those who were fired or laid off.

The stimulus bill will also add $600 on top of existing unemployment benefits (currently averaging about $300 a week) for four months and extend unemployment insurance by 13 weeks. The bill will also ensure that workers maintain their full salaries if they lose their job due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This additional funding will come from the federal government rather than from states and employers, who typically fund unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits are still taxable under current law, which the stimulus bill does not account for.

Eased penalties around retirement account withdrawals

The bill also allows those affected by COVID-19 to withdraw up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts, including your 401(k) and IRAs, without facing the 10% early withdrawal penalty that typically applies when you make withdrawals when you are under the age of 59 ½. You will still have to pay income taxes on your withdrawals, though these taxes will now be due over the course of three years instead of immediately. Additionally, the bill waives required minimum distributions (RMDs) for select retirement plans for this year.

Qualified individuals include those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or have a spouse or dependent who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as those who have been laid off, quarantined, furloughed or faced reduced hours due to the pandemic. This applies through Dec. 31, 2020.

Even though the bill allows it, withdrawing from your retirement accounts before you’ve actually hit retirement is generally not the best plan — especially if you’re already close to retiring. By doing so, you run the high risk of hurting the nest egg that you’ve worked hard to build for retirement. Still, this may be the only source of money available to many right now.

Small business relief

The stimulus plan includes $425 billion for the Federal Reserve to leverage for emergency loans to distressed companies and $75 billion for industry-specific loans. Despite previous claims from President Trump that he alone would choose which businesses received aid, this lending system will fall under oversight by an inspector general and a congressionally-appointed panel.

The spending package also provides $350 billion that will go toward lending programs for small businesses, but only those that keep their payrolls steady through the crisis. There is also a reward for small businesses that keep their workers in the form of federally-guaranteed loans that will be forgiven if the employer continues to pay its workers throughout this time of crisis.

Additionally, the plan allocates $130 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments.

Banks’ responses to COVID-19

In the meantime, millions of Americans are struggling with changes to their work hours and incomes. Some banks are offering relief packages of their own, often waiving certain fees or offering expedited services. Certain banks, like Ally Bank, are providing more robust aid than others, while several big banks have not committed to providing widespread support. Although not listed below, community banks may offer a stronger support system to those financially affected.

Many banks also warn customers about keeping their information and money safe from fraudsters. Unfortunately, scams and phishing attempts are cropping up to take advantage of this crisis. Be wary of phone calls, emails and texts from suspicious senders who ask for personal or account information, and avoid clicking on links in emails and texts. When in doubt, head to your institution’s official website to verify the bank’s contact information or log into your account to access its secure messaging system.

Wondering whether your bank is offering a relief package? Here’s what some of the biggest banks are offering.

American Express

American Express has not released any specific COVID-19 relief plans to help its Personal Savings banking customers at this time.

Customers of the online-only bank can continue to access their accounts online. They can also call customer service at 1-800-446-6307 — just beware that wait times may be longer than usual.

Ally Bank

Online-only Ally Bank currently has an expansive COVID-19 relief plan, especially in comparison to other banks. The bank has outlined measures to help customers, employees and communities.

Until July 16, 2020, Ally Bank deposits customers can benefit from waived overdraft fees; free expedited checks and debit cards; and waived excessive transaction fees on your savings or money market accounts.

Transfers and online payments remain uninterrupted. Plus, Ally Bank has made it faster to deposit checks of $50,000 or less online with Ally eCheck deposit. You can still use mobile deposit via the Ally Mobile app.

Bank of America

Bank of America’s COVID-19 response so far is encouraging its customers to turn to mobile and online banking first, both of which allow you to check your account statuses, pay bills and deposit checks.

However, Bank of America financial centers remain open. The bank’s locations are open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time, while Saturdays maintain regular hours, which vary from branch to branch. Branches that remain open undergo “enhanced, daily cleanings” and “other measures to limit the risk of exposure, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

As for relief in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Bank of America urges any customers who are facing financial hardship to contact a representative who will “work with you to create a solution tailored to your particular situation” or use its virtual assistant, Erica, to get answers to any questions. For banking customers, relief solutions can include waiving certain fees, such as overdraft fees.

Capital One

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Capital One is waiving its out-of-network ATM fee. It won’t reimburse you for a third-party surcharge, though.

If you are facing financial difficulties, you can contact Capital One and a representative can help to find a solution for you. Note that customer service wait times are likely longer than usual right now.

Capital One has temporarily closed select branches that do not have drive-thru tellers or protective glass at teller counters. Branches that do have those features will remain open via those outlets and are being disinfected per CDC guidelines. Tellers may still assist customers in the lobby in special circumstances. Capital One ATMs remain open 24/7. Capital One also strongly encourages its customers to use the Capital One mobile app or online banking to make payments, check balances and deposit checks.

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab has no specific measures in place to provide relief aid to its banking customers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Schwab branches are temporarily closed as of March 20 and will remain so until local, state and federal government recommendations indicate it is safe to reopen. Still, you can contact a branch directly by phone to reach a representative. Schwab also encourages customers to go digital by completing tasks online or via its mobile app, which includes check-depositing capabilities.

Chase

In light of the pandemic, Chase Bank customers are encouraged to use the Chase Mobile app and online banking to complete their account-related tasks. Chase asks that those who need help because of COVID-19 reach out to a representative, though you may experience wait times that are longer than usual.

Several Chase branches are temporarily closed, while other branches’ hours and services have been adjusted. You can check the status of your branch on the Chase Mobile app or online. Chase branches and ATMs are being cleaned with EPA-approved disinfectants.

On a wider scale, JPMorgan Chase has pledged $50 million to nonprofit organizations to help support “healthcare, food and other humanitarian relief” efforts globally; community partners; and small businesses in the U.S., China and Europe.

Citibank

For at least 30 days starting March 9, Citibank will waive monthly service fees and penalties for early withdrawals from CDs. Citibank also asks that those affected by COVID-19 contact the bank for assistance, although wait times may be longer than usual. If you already work with a personal banker or financial advisor through Citibank, you can contact them directly during their regular business hours.

Select Citibank branches are closed and those that are open are undergoing “daily cleaning procedures … on high-touch surfaces,” providing hand sanitizer and practicing CDC recommendations like social distancing. You can also access your accounts and funds via the Citi Mobile app, the Citibank website and Citi ATMs on a 24/7 basis.

Discover

Discover has “support in place for qualified Discover customers who experience hardship” due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although it is unclear what qualifies customers to receive this support, a Discover representative adds that “Discover customers may receive assistance related to payments, fees and interest.”

Discover Online Banking customers can call 1-800-347-7000 (TTY/TDD 1-800-347-7454) any time to reach a Discover representative for assistance. You also can continue to access your accounts online or via the Discover mobile app.

Goldman Sachs Bank USA

Customers of Marcus by Goldman Sachs can make penalty-free withdrawals from regular CDs at this time, as a direct response to COVID-19. You can do so by calling 1-855-730-7283. Marcus contact centers are operating virtually, with temporary hours of 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.

You can still access your Marcus accounts online. Apple device users can also benefit from the Marcus mobile app.

PNC Bank

PNC Bank customers who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 should call 1-888-762-2265, which is available 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.

If you are eligible for assistance, a PNC representative will discuss your options with you, which include waiving or refunding fees on deposit accounts (and other products). Qualified customers can also take out an emergency hardship loan “at a low rate.” PNC did not make it clear how it determines eligibility for assistance, but it stressed that customers should call for help.

As of March 20, select PNC branches are closed. Others remain open with limited hours and access, with some are operating via drive-up window only. You can use PNC’s branch locator to check the status of a branch and to find a branch that offers essential appointments, made available for safe deposit box access, loan closings or other banking services that you cannot make otherwise. PNC is also still widely accessible via online, mobile and voice banking.

TD Bank

TD Bank encourages customers affected by COVID-19 to call 1-888-751-9000 to see how the bank can support you as it says it “may be able to provide some financial relief.” Of course, wait times are uncharacteristically long at this time.

Assistance options offered by TD Bank will depend on your situation and request but may include fee refunds, early, penalty-free access to CDs and payment extensions. The bank’s customer assistance offers continue to evolve as well, according to a bank representative.

Select TD Bank branches are temporarily closed, while others remain open at either full-service or drive-thru only status. Branches that are open also have reduced hours, including closure on Sundays. TD Bank is also reserving the first hour of full-service branches and customer appointment bookings for seniors and those most at risk for the virus. You can check the status of branches by state on TD Bank’s COVID-19 updates page.

TD Bank ATMs are still accessible, as is its website and banking app.

Truist (formerly BB&T and SunTrust)

Truist, the result of a recent merger between BB&T and SunTrust, is offering its deposits customers temporarily-waived ATM surcharge fees.

For further assistance, Truist encourages heritage BB&T clients to call 1-800-226-5228 and heritage SunTrust clients to call 1-877-820-2103. Watch out for long wait times, however, which customers have reported on social media.

Local BB&T and SunTrust branch hours and services are temporarily moving to drive-thru teller services only, appointment-only in-person visits and select branch closures. Customers still have 24/7 access to ATMs as well as online, mobile and telephone banking.

U.S. Bank

U.S. Bank maintains that it is “actively looking for ways to help customers” who have been impacted. Deposits customers who have been financially affected by COVID-19 should call the bank at 1-888-287-7817.

U.S. Bank branch operations are temporarily reduced, and the bank encourages customers to use drive-up windows instead of going inside a branch. You can check your local branch’s hours and status online. Otherwise, you can still access your U.S. Bank accounts on the bank’s mobile app, by phone or on its website.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo has said it will offer fee waivers for customers who contact the company. On a larger scale, the Wells Fargo Foundation has pledged up to $6.25 million in donations “to support domestic and global response to the COVID-19 and to aid public health relief efforts.” This includes funding “at the local level,” as well as for the national CDC and the International Medical Corps.

Select Wells Fargo locations are temporarily closed, while the branches that remain open have temporarily reduced hours. You can check the status of a Wells Fargo branch here. If you need a service that can only be completed in a branch, you can make an appointment. Wells Fargo call centers still remain open, though they are experiencing higher-than-normal call volume and longer wait times.

You can also access your accounts online and on the Wells Fargo Mobile app, where you can deposit checks, move money and more. Wells Fargo also reminds customers that they can use contactless cards or digital wallets for payments.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Banking

How Much Will My Stimulus Check Be? Calculate Your Payment

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to batter the economy — prompting the stock market to plummet and unemployment claims to spike — the U.S. federal government is throwing taxpayers a life raft, in the form of stimulus checks.

Congress has passed a $2 trillion relief bill that aims to provide emergency assistance to individuals, families and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including one-time payments made to individuals. The amount of money you can expect to see from Uncle Sam, though, is based on a number of factors, ranging from how much money you make to how many children you have.

Who qualifies for a stimulus check?

Under the relief bill — dubbed the CARES Act — most adults who have a valid Social Security number will be able to qualify for a stimulus check, with the size of that check based on your 2019 or 2018 tax return.

You also qualify for a stimulus check if you receive Social Security benefits for disability, retirement or Supplemental Security Income, according to the AARP. Social Security recipients will not need to file 2019 taxes to receive their check as previously stated — instead, information will be based on 1099 forms.

In order to qualify, you need to meet the following requirements:

You must fall below income thresholds: The bulk of those who do not qualify for a stimulus check will likely be high-earners: Under the CARES Act, if you’re an individual with no children who earns over $99,000 or are a married couple that filed jointly and are making more than $198,000, you are not eligible to receive a stimulus check.

You cannot be claimed as a dependent of someone else: Additionally, in order to receive a stimulus check, you cannot be claimed as a dependent of someone else. That’s noteworthy, and may mean that millions of dependents who are not children under the age of 17 could end up missing out on relief checks. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, filers only receive an additional $500 for each child under 17, which could be problematic for people who support dependents like the elderly, adults with disabilities and college students.

You must have a valid Social Security number: To receive a rebate check, each member of the household (including children) is also required to have a valid Social Security number. Per the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, this may mean that households of certain immigrant families with children who are U.S. citizens could still be denied a stimulus check.

How much are the stimulus checks?

The amount of your stimulus check is based off of your adjusted gross income, as well as how many children under the age of 17 you have. Here’s how the one-time, non-taxable payments break down:

  • Up to $1,200 per adult
  • Up to $2,400 for couples filing joint returns
  • $500 per child under the age of 17

However, the checks start to decrease by $5 for every additional $100 of income beyond the following income thresholds:

  • $75,000 for individuals
  • $112,500 for head of households (typically single parents)
  • $150,000 for couples who filed a joint return

Certain individuals with higher adjustable gross incomes aren’t eligible to receive a stimulus check at all. The checks completely phase out at the following income thresholds:

  • $99,000 for individuals with no children
  • $198,000 for married couples with no children

How does the government determine how much I get?

The government will determine the size of your cash payment based on the adjusted gross income (or your total gross income minus certain deductions, such as 401(k) contributions) and information reported on your 2019 tax return. For those who have not filed a 2019 tax return, tax returns from 2018 may be used instead to determine your check amount.

If you don’t typically file taxes and have no income — and instead rely on Social Security benefits — you are still eligible to receive a stimulus check. Instead of using information from your 2018 or 2019 taxes, the IRS will use information from Social Security beneficiaries’ 1099 documents.

“Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return need to take no action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

When will I get my stimulus check?

According to the CARES Act, the cash payments should be made as “rapidly as possible.” On March 30, the IRS announced that the distribution of the payments will begin within the next three weeks.

It’s also worth noting that if you have signed up for direct deposit with the IRS and have chosen to have your tax refunds deposited electronically — as opposed to receiving your tax refunds by mail as a paper check — you will likely receive your stimulus check faster, too.

Still, experts have been critical of that timeline, and have instead said the payment process could take months, not weeks. In 2009, for example, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) took three months to send out checks to households as a cushion during the Great Recession.

How will I receive my stimulus check?

You can expect your stimulus check from the IRS to be either directly deposited into your bank account or mailed to you, based on the method in which you requested to receive your tax refund. However, the IRS also announced that in the coming weeks, the Treasury Department plans to open a web-based portal in which people can share their banking information with the IRS, enabling them to receive their payments via direct deposit as opposed to waiting for a check in the mail.

If you have filed your 2019 or 2018 taxes, there is no action needed from you, and the IRS will issue your payment automatically. In fact, the IRS is actually asking consumers not to contact them about the stimulus checks, stating it will make details available on its website.

Determine how much you will get from your stimulus check

To find out how much you can expect to receive from your stimulus check, reference the table below.

What you should do with your stimulus check

As many Americans face furlough or unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a recent survey by MagnifyMoney found that most people intend to use their stimulus checks on necessities, like paying bills and buying groceries.

Many experts recommend keeping the money you receive from your rebate liquid, like in an emergency savings account, which should have enough funds to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

For more information on the rest of the stimulus package, refer to our hub page.

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