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In the CARES Act that just passed (text here), section 2201 provides the recovery rebate tax credit for 2020, with section (f) providing advance refunds (the check). It says that the advance refund amount will be determined based on the amount of credit you would have gotten if it were applied to your 2019 tax return, or (in subsection (f)(5)), if you haven't filed a 2019 tax return by the time they make the determination, your 2018 tax return, or, if you didn't file that, based on amounts from your SSA-1099 or RRB-1099. However, SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 are Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefit statements, which you would only have if you had one of those retirement benefits.

So what if you are someone who did not (and does not by the time they make the determination) file 2018 or 2019 tax returns (e.g. because your income is below the threshold for being required to file), and you are not getting Social Security benefits? Does that mean that you won't get the check (advance refund) and will have to claim the credit on your 2020 tax return? Or can they figure out your income from other sources and still give you the check?

  • Logically that natural person is a "SEC. 6428. 2020 RECOVERY REBATES FOR INDIVIDUALS (d) Eligible Individual" and that person has until July 15, 2020 to file their 2019 taxes or submit 2018 taxes. Regardless "(e) Public Awareness Campaign" means that an answer is forthcoming for those who have not submitted/have no taxes for 2018 or 2019. – Morrison Chang Mar 29 at 6:31
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Now, I am not a lawyer/CPA but the text of the bill states:

In the case of an eligible individual, there shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by subtitle A for the first taxable year beginning in 2020 ...

I would interpret this to mean that the check is actually a tax credit for 2020. This CNBC article seems to agree:

... money someone is entitled to [and does not receive in 2019] will eventually come to them when they file their 2020 tax return in the form of a credit against taxes owed.

Therefore you have two options:

  1. Wait until 2021 and get the stimulus as a tax credit when you file for 2020.
  2. File for 2019 now and get the check sooner You must file to get the check, they will not just "figure your income" from other sources because not everything is reported to them.

Depending on your tax situation you might choose one or the other. But if you qualify for 2019 then you might as well file your return, especially since you have until July 15 to do so. Personally, $1,200 now is worth a lot more than $1,200 a year from now.

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Answering my own question, the IRS now has instructions for people who did not file (and are not going to file) tax returns for 2018 and 2019 (who are not required to file) to enter their payment information to get the Economic Impact Payments.

It involves creating an account and filling out a special form at the Free File Fillable Forms website.

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