Social Security and Coronavirus Checks: 4 Times You Should Still File Taxes

A senior citizen hugs his grandchild.
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If you’re on Social Security, you probably know that you don’t have to do anything to get your coronavirus relief check. Even if you don’t normally file a tax return, the IRS will use your benefits statement to automatically process your payment.

So like the rest of us, you’re waiting for that $1,200 (or $2,400 if you’re married) to magically appear in your bank account or mailbox. The money is part of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill that was signed into law on March 27.

But even if you don’t have to file a tax return, in some situations you could benefit from doing so.

FROM THE RETIREMENT FORUM

4 Reasons to File a Return if You’re on Social Security (Even if You Don’t Have to)

Even if you aren’t required to file a tax return, here are four scenarios where you should submit one anyway. Not sure how to get started? Here’s a step-by-step guide to filing a simple tax return.

1. You Have a Dependent Child

The IRS will get the information it needs to qualify YOU for your $1,200 payment from your benefits statement. But if you have a dependent child under 17 — whether it’s your own child or, say, you have custody of your grandchild — you could miss out on a $500 child coronavirus stimulus credit, because the IRS won’t automatically receive information about your dependents.

“They’ll give you the $1,200 automatically,” said said Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of the personal finance site Money Done Right. “But to get the $500, the only way to do it is to file.”

2. You’re on Social Security, but Your Spouse Isn’t

As we saw in the first example, the IRS gets plenty of information about you from Social Security, but not about your family members.

Here’s all of our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, which we will be updating every day.

So on that note, if you’re receiving Social Security, but your spouse doesn’t receive Social Security and hasn’t filed a tax return, you’ll get the $1,200 for you. But you could miss out on the additional $1,200 for your spouse.

Allec recommends that the spouse who doesn’t receive benefits file a return.

“You want to make it as easy as possible for the IRS to know these things,” he said. “In this case, they should file an MFJ (married filing jointly) tax return and report $1 of income.”

3. You Don’t Get Direct Deposit

The vast majority of Social Security recipients get direct deposit. But if you’re not among them and you have a bank account, filing a tax return and including your direct deposit information could speed up your payment.

The IRS says it plans to add a portal to its website where you can add or change your direct deposit information. But we don’t know when the feature will go live — and getting your payment could take weeks, if not months, longer if you go the paper check route.

If you haven’t submitted a 2018 or 2019 return, the easiest way to get your direct deposit info to the IRS is to file.

4. You Want to Be Extra Sure the IRS Has Your Info 

If you want extra peace of mind, go ahead and file. We don’t know how the exchange of information between the IRS and Social Security will work. Filing a tax return can only increase the chances that the IRS has what it needs to cut you that check.

“There’s really no harm in doing so,” Allec said. “The only thing it costs you is a few minutes of your time.”

Do I Have to File a Tax Return if I’m on SSI or Veteran’s Disability?

As of this writing on April 7, people who receive Supplemental Security Income or veteran’s disability payments should still file a tax return, even if they aren’t normally required to.

But this could change, especially since many lawmakers are urging the Trump Administration to waive this requirement. We’ll update this post if anything changes.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind the Dear Penny personal finance advice column.