5 Steps to Filing a Tax Return to Get Your $1,400 Stimulus Check

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This post refers to the 2020 tax season. For the most up-to-date info, check out our recent tax articles.

If you have a Social Security number and no one can claim you as a dependent, you probably qualify for a $1,400 stimulus check — even if you earn so little money that you aren’t required to file a tax return. You’ll also likely receive $1,800 from the first two rounds as a refund recovery rebate.

For people who get certain benefits, like Social Security or SSI, the process is easy. The IRS will use the information from your benefits statement to determine your eligibility and automatically get the payment to you.

But what if you’re not receiving benefits? The only way to get your payment is to file a 2020 tax return, even though you aren’t required to.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to file a tax return. Here’s how to do it.

How to File a Simple Tax Return in 5 Steps

You can easily file a tax return in just a few minutes that gives the IRS the information it needs to get you your payment .

“You’re just going to have to provide some basic info, and it’s stuff you know,” said Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of the personal finance site Money Done Right. “Your name, your dependents’ names, your address, your Social Security number.”

The one piece of information you might not know off the top of your head: the Social Security numbers of your dependents.

As long as you have all that information, you’re ready to get started. Here’s what to do.

1. Find Your Bank Account and Routing Numbers

Technically, you don’t need to provide bank account info to complete a simple tax return. But your stimulus check will get to you a lot faster if you sign up for direct deposit, rather than waiting for the IRS to mail you a paper check.

You should be able to access this information by logging into your bank account online. If you have a checkbook, you can find your nine-digit routing number on the bottom left side of the check. Your bank account number will be just to the right of the routing number. Your account number should also be listed on your bank statements, but you may need to call customer service to get your routing number.

An easier hack for finding your routing number: Google the name of your bank and the words “routing number.” The number may vary by state.

2. Go to the IRS Free File Website

Head to the IRS Free File website, where you’ll find a number of online tools that let you file a return for free. These tools will ask you a few questions to choose the right filing status for you and determine whether you can claim anyone as a dependent.

You can also fill out the forms yourself online, or even print them out and mail them. Trust us, though: It’s way easier to do this using one of the free filing tools.

3. Enter $1 for Your Income if You Didn’t Earn Anything

If you earned money for the year you’re filing for, report that amount. Since your earnings were low enough that you weren’t required to file a tax return for the year, you shouldn’t worry about owing income tax.

And if you didn’t earn income? “You’d put $1,” Allec said. “Don’t worry. You’re not going to owe taxes on that dollar.”

4. Input Your Direct Deposit Information

Back to that bank account info that you hopefully gathered: It’s really important that you input that. The tax filing program you use will ask for that information before you file. If you’re manually filling out Form 1040, you’ll enter it on Line 35.

But if you can submit your return online, you’ll get it much faster. The IRS has a huge backlog of unprocessed paper returns, which could leave you waiting for months. Meanwhile, the average online return is processed in 21 days or less.

5. Sign It… and Wait

If you submit your return online, you’ll select a five-digit PIN that will serve as your electronic signature. If you’re printing and mailing your return, don’t forget to physically sign it.

From that point, all you can do is wait. Payments began on March 17 and will continue in the weeks ahead. Once you’ve filed your return, you can track your stimulus check using the Get My Payment feature on the IRS website.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].