Millions of Adult Dependents Qualify for Stimulus After Missing Last Year’s Payments. Here’s How to Get Your Money

A photo to accompany a story about adult dependents and stimulus payments San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images
Anissa Perez, 18, heads to the dining room to work on homework with her 15-year-old sister Marisol at their home in Oakland, Calif. Anissa, a freshman at University of Miami, is now living and studying from her parent's home. Unlike during the previous two rounds of stimulus checks, college students and other adult dependents are eligible to receive the $1,400 payment if they meet the income requirements.
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Millions of Americans qualify for stimulus money after missing out on last year’s payments, thanks to new eligibility requirements with the most recent relief bill.

The American Rescue Plan, signed into law last week, calls for adult dependents to receive the latest round of stimulus payments, after this group was not included in either of the 2020 stimulus relief bills. 

“The adult dependents had been totally left out of the CARES Act,” says Claudia Sahm, a macroeconomic policy consultant and former Federal Reserve researcher. “And the CARES Act covered a ton of people. And yet this is a step further.”

Who Are Adult Dependents?

Adult dependents are people 17 and older who are claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return. This includes high school or college students, adults who live at home and are dependent for another reason, or elderly adults that live with others and are counted as dependents at tax time. 

This group could total 27.4 million, according to Kyle Pomerleau, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“In the last two rounds of checks, dependents were defined as children who are eligible for the child tax credit. This only included children under the age of 17. Under that definition of dependents, there were 70.1 [million] dependents eligible,” Pomerleau wrote in an email. 

With the addition of adult dependents, the total number of eligible dependents rises to 97.4 million. 

“It’s almost overwhelming to see how much further we’ve pushed this policy,” says Sahm. 

How To Make Sure Eligible Dependents Get the Stimulus

For adult dependents to qualify, the person claiming them on their tax return must meet the same income threshold as everyone else: $1,400 payments for individuals with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000, heads of household with income up to $112,500, and $150,000 for joint filers.

After that threshold, the payments will be reduced until a max income limit of: $80,000 for single filers, $120,000 for heads of household, and $160,000 for married couples. No one with income above those caps will receive money in this round of stimulus payments. 

Your income is determined by your most recent tax return — 2019 if the IRS has not yet processed your 2020 return. 

Anyone who qualifies for a stimulus check themselves will also receive the same amount for any dependents they claimed on their most recent return (not just those under 17). If you qualify for less than the full stimulus amount, that’s the amount your dependents will also receive. The additional stimulus will be paid to the tax filer, not the dependent themselves. 

If you are a college student or adult who was claimed by a parent or someone else as a dependent on their most recent tax return, your stimulus will be included in their payment. So you’ll want to make sure you are clear with your parents or anyone else who might’ve claimed you, whether or not they did, and what that means for your payment.

Here’s another scenario that can complicate things: say you’re a college student who is financially dependent on your parents, but you have a part-time job and filed your own tax return in addition to being claimed as a dependent by your parents. Can you still get the stimulus?

Yes, if these things are true:

  • Your parents meet that income threshold
  • The financial support you get from your parents is equal to or greater than half of your annual income
  • You personally made less than $4,200 in 2019, or less than $4,300 in 2020

Again, the stimulus will be paid to your parents, or whoever claimed you as a dependent, even if you file a separate tax return for yourself. 

These are not the only scenarios that may qualify you to receive the stimulus check — there are several other tests you can use to check if you qualify. If you’re unsure, consult a tax expert to see if you are eligible to get the stimulus. 

The IRS also offers a stimulus calculator to determine how much economic impact payment you qualify for. Most people will automatically receive stimulus payments for their dependents, but if you don’t receive one for a dependent who qualifies, you’ll be able to claim it on your 2021 taxes.

Dependent Stimulus vs. Child Tax Credit

The stimulus check for dependents is separate from the expanded child tax credit that was included in the most recent bill, but parents might be eligible for both. Children ages 0-17 are eligible for the expanded child tax credit: Children under 6 are eligible for a credit up to $3,600 in 2020, and over the age of 6 up to $3,000. 

The credit begins to phase out at the same income thresholds as the stimulus payments: $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint filers. 

That means if you qualify for the child tax credit, your child will also qualify to receive a dependent stimulus payment. So if you meet the income threshold, and have a child under the age of 6, you could receive up to $5,000 for that child in addition to your separate stimulus payment.