These are the days when the internet is not necessarily your friend.
Let’s leave aside the very true fact that so many of the new, online substitutes for the “real thing” are a pale imitation of what we used to have, and that with more and more time spent online, there are more and more opportunities for time-wasting distractions and becoming ever more frustrated/jealous/annoyed/angry with your fellow humans for various reasons.
But even worse … when seeking answers on practical matters about this present situation (especially when it comes to your finances!), you are prone to finding wrong, outdated, incomplete, or useless information.
Oh, and of course, there are all of the new scammers out there.
That’s why I hope you see why I’m working so hard to be in communication with you right now. We are busier than we have almost EVER been here at Emelia Mensa CPA, and much of it involves helping our clients and friends navigate this hall of mirrors.
So we do ask for your patience, as we tap our inside sources for the REAL information, wade through all of the new guidance being put out by the IRS, and dive into the CARES Act for the panoply of new credits, benefits and assistance details that were jammed into that massive bill.
I’m taking up two big areas of confusion and questions right now: the economic stimulus checks (WHERE ARE THEY??) and unemployment assistance.
Where are the promised checks?
Well, the good news is that they HAVE started issuing these payments (to those who qualify).
Just to refresh, these are the payments that (depending on income limitations and phaseouts) should be $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent (under the age of 17). The IRS is using ’18 and ’19 tax returns to identify recipients. Every person needs a SSN to be eligible.
The bad news … it might take a while.
The direct deposits have started. The checks (if you don’t use direct deposit) will be delayed by 2-4 weeks. The IRS has said it will take them about 5 months to get them all out (both the checks and the direct deposits).
New tool if you did NOT file a return: the IRS has set up a new website where you can enter your info, especially if you have an annual income that falls underneath the filing threshold (2019 income of $12,200 single or $24,400 married).
If the IRS doesn’t have your current info or your circumstances change dramatically in 2020, you can catch it all up when you file your 2020 return.
This is NOT a loan you have to pay back. There is no reason not to take the money.
If you didn’t get your money yet, it could be because they don’t have your current direct deposit info, it could be because they don’t have a return for you, it could be because your 2018 or 2019 income was higher so it phased out, or it could be that they just haven’t gotten to you yet.
Essentially, there is not much else you can do to speed this along (aside from verifying your info), which means that you’ll just have to wait.
And this is not easy right now.
The IRS DID announce that they will put up a portal on April 17th to verify your direct deposit info. We’ll send that to you in our next installment (assuming they do what they say they will do.) It should be linked on this web page though.
You’ve likely heard the numbers (16+ million filed for unemployment assistance so far), and they are scary.
Add the Department of Labor to the ranks of overwhelmed government agencies, along with the IRS and the SBA. All of which are staffed by people who are ALSO very distracted by the intensity of this season.
So, that aside … many unemployment benefits are dictated by the state in which you live and work, but there are also federal guidelines and benefits. And that guidance is continuing to roll out, even as I write.
For the first time, self-employed and gig workers ARE included and as it currently stands, there is also a $600 bonus federal payment on top of state benefits — but, as you might imagine, there are specific rules.
In order to qualify, self-employed independent contractors, gig workers and part-time employees will need to show that they have exhausted their unemployment benefits under current law and self-certify that they are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable to control their work specifically because of the crisis.
Further, you have to be able to show that you’re not able to continue working (even in a limited way) through the crisis — whether via telework, or, for example, continuing to drive your Uber even though there are far fewer passengers.
For these self-employed people, the PPP would probably be the best option — if you can get it. More about that in a future note.
The states are taking a long time to process unemployment claims. They have more people applying than ever before. They are dealing with their own short staffs and have to make major overhauls of their websites.
I have something difficult to say right now, and I say this with compassion for those who are truly struggling:
The only thing you can REALLY count on right now is yourself.
Yes, the government is trying to help. But they are getting swamped, and the assistance will take some time.
So … it’s time to figure out how to get through this thing, whether you get the payments quickly, or you don’t. It’s time to lean on those who have already been in your corner.
And that does include us.
Emelia Mensa EA, CPA
Emelia Mensa CPA
“CRISIS Action Plan” for my clients:
1) Don’t marinate in other people’s panic. Be mindful of your social media consumption.
2) Continue to stay financially and logistically prepared for worsening situations.
3) Make sure you have some ready, liquid assets, if you are able. (I.e., cash in the bank, and in hand.)
4) Set aside plans for any big spending until the dust settles — but especially look out for your small business owner friends and vendors.