Americans who aren’t required to file a federal income tax return may qualify for stimulus checks that were approved as part of the government’s COVID-19 relief package passed earlier this year.

The IRS is sending letters to about 9 million Americans who haven’t filed a return for 2018 or 2019, but may qualify for Economic Impact Payments. Non-filers are individuals whose income is less than $12,000, and married couples whose joint income is less than $24,400.

The relief package authorized one-time stimulus checks, which are technically known as relief checks, of up to $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for married couples and $500 for each qualifying child. 

Immigrants, retirees and students who aren’t being claimed on their parents’ tax returns often fall into the nonfiler category, according to Louis Barajas, a financial planner at MGO Wealth Advisors.

The IRS states that you are likely eligible for an Economic Impact Payment if you are a U.S. citizen or if you are a permanent resident but don’t have citizenship; have a work-eligible Social Security number, and can’t be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s federal income tax return.   

You have until Oct. 15 to register in order to receive an Economic Impact Payment sent out by the end of the year. After that date, you can still claim the payment as a credit on your tax return the following year as long as you file a federal income tax return. Recipients can register for Economic Impact Payments here.

Francine Lipman, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, noted that if your income didn’t qualify you for a payment based on your 2019 income tax return, but you became unemployed in 2020, you can also claim your stimulus money as a tax credit when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021. (The payment is phased out for individuals who make more than $99,000.)

In most cases, claiming a refund must be filed within three years, which Lipman said means you have until 2024 to file a return to get your money back. 

There is a stimulus payment helpline that will help nonfilers claim their refunds. 

The IRS has released a state-by-state breakdown of the letters it’s sent out, with California, Texas and Florida having the highest number of recipients.   

“Everybody’s gone through a lot of ups and downs in 2020. There are a lot of people who are hurting,” Barajas said. “The goal is to get that money and eventually use it to pay for your rent or pay the bill.”

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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