What’s in the CARES Act for Individual Americans?

I bet you’ve heard about the stimulus package by now. It’s titled the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,” or the CARES Act, and it’s enormous – it’s a $2 trillion stimulus package.

The CARES Act offers relief for several sectors including taxpayers, businesses, health care providers, and the aviation industry. Most of the financial assistance measures for individuals are in the Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act section of the CARES Act.

The part that applies most directly to individuals is smaller, about $560 billion, according to NPR. Big corporations get $500 billion, small business gets another $377 billion, etc.

CARES Act Breakdown of Assistance

The piece that most affects you is that individual part, which we separate into three major sections:

  • Enhanced unemployment benefits,
  • and relaxed 401(k) withdrawal rules.

There are additional benefits, which we also discuss, but I feel those are the big three. (for information on what companies are doing, check out our Coronavirus financial relief page)

Let’s see what has changed:

Table of Contents
  1. $1,200 Stimulus Check
    1. Income Requirements
    2. Is the Recovery Rebate Taxable?
  2. Unemployment Insurance
    1. Waived One-Week Waiting Period
    2. Enhanced Benefits
    3. Self-Employed Unemployment Benefits
    4. Short-Time Compensation
  3. Retirement Account Withdrawals
    1. No 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty
    2. Temporary Waiver of Required Minimum Distributions
  4. Student Loan Payments
    1. Suspends Loan and Interest Payments
    2. Tax-Free Employer Student Loan Payment
  5. Health Insurance Benefits
    1. Telehealth Services
    2. Free Coronavirus Testing
  6. Federal Income Tax Benefits
    1. Charitable Contributions
    2. Extended Tax Filing Deadlines

$1,200 Stimulus Check

The key feature of the CARES Act for most people is a one-time recovery rebate worth up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Similar rebates were issued during the 2008 Great Recession and after the 2001 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The IRS will begin issuing the rebate as a “stimulus payment check” within the next three weeks, according to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. The IRS will use your 2019 federal tax return data to calculate the amount of the check. If you haven’t filed yet, it’ll use your 2018 tax return information. If you didn’t file either, it can also use your Form SSA-1099 Social Security Benefit Statement or RRB-1099 Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.

Most taxpayers will receive their rebate via direct deposit in the same bank account as your last tax refund. If your bank details are not on file, you will receive a paper check. Within 15 days of the payments going out, the IRS will also mail a letter explaining how they paid the rebate. If you need to update information, the letter will outline how to do that.

Like the 2001 and 2008 recovery rebates, there are no spending restrictions. You might use your funds to pay essential bills, save for a rainy day, or pay off debt.

Income Requirements

Your rebate amount is based on your adjusted gross income, tax filing status, and the number of dependents on your federal tax return.

How the 2020 recovery rebate works:

  • Single taxpayers can get $1,200 and joint returns get up to $2,400
  • Each taxpayer gets $500 per child with no limit to the number of children
  • Income phaseouts start at $75,000 for individual returns and $150,000 for joint returns
  • No minimum income requirement
  • Must have a Social Security number
  • Must file a federal tax return for tax year 2019 (or 2018), or get Form SSA-10999 or RRB-1099

There isn’t a minimum required income but income phaseouts will affect high-income households.

The rebate amount decreases $5 for every $100 in additional income for each filing status.

Single taxpayers receive the full rebate amount with an adjusted gross income below $75,000 and a partial rebate with incomes up to $99,000.

The head of household filing status receives the full rebate with an income up to $112,500. A partial rebate ends at $146,500 if you have one child.

Joint returns for married couples begin seeing income phaseouts at $150,000 and ending at $198,000.

Is the Recovery Rebate Taxable?

The recovery rebate isn’t considered taxable income.

The recovery rebate is an advance on a tax credit created for 2020. They determine the amount they send using old information but they will fix it once they know your actual 2020 income. This means that when you file your 2020 return, the IRS will re-calculate the rebate you should’ve gotten and give you more if necessary.

For example, if you added a qualifying child into your family in 2020, then you would get an additional $500 (subject to income phaseouts).

If you make too much in 2020 and the IRS determines they paid you too much today, there is a possibility they will ask for it back but this is considered unlikely.

Unemployment Insurance

There are several enhancements to the normal unemployment benefits. Traditional employees and the self-employed can both qualify for enhanced benefits. (and yes, you can get unemployment benefits and a stimulus check)

Waived One-Week Waiting Period

You must normally wait at least one week after being laid off to file for unemployment insurance. That waiting period is temporarily waived and you can file immediately.

Enhanced Benefits

There are two different temporary unemployment insurance benefit boosts:

  • Receive benefits for an additional 13 weeks — up to 39 weeks
  • A additional $600 per week on top of the standard state benefit.

These are available from April 5, 2020, until July 31, 2020. Your state should automatically apply the benefits if you currently receive unemployment insurance.

Each state manages its own unemployment insurance benefit programs. You typically receive benefits for up to 26 weeks. The average national unemployment insurance weekly benefit is $385 but is less in states with a low cost-of-living.

You can receive close to $1000 a week under this program thanks to the additional $600 weekly federal benefit.

This additional $600 weekly benefit doesn’t impact your status for income status Medicaid or CHIP benefits.

Self-Employed Unemployment Benefits

Small businesses and freelancers who lost their job due to the novel coronavirus can collect unemployment benefits in 2020 as well.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) offers benefits to the self-employed, independent contractors, and gig workers that usually don’t qualify for unemployment insurance.

Workers who do not have enough hours to qualify for their state’s standard unemployment insurance may also qualify for PUA benefits.

This assistance program offers a weekly $600 benefit for up to 39 weeks. You may receive benefits through December 31, 2020, which is longer than the current unemployment insurance benefits.

Short-Time Compensation

Your employer may keep you on the payroll but pay you a part-time wage. You can receive partial unemployment benefits during this time. The Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act will reimburse businesses who participate in this program.

Retirement Account Withdrawals

Normally, when you withdraw funds from an IRA or 401(k), you had to pay additional penalties if it wasn’t a loan. There were changes to these rules as long as you satisfy certain conditions.

No 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty

Most IRA and 401(k) withdrawals before age 59 ½ are subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty. Some qualifying exceptions can be paying for college or being a first-time homebuyer.

Up to $100,000 in unreimbursed novel coronavirus-related expenses can be withdrawn penalty-free from qualifying retirement accounts. This fee waiver applies for qualifying withdrawals made on or after January 1, 2020.

If you’re pulling from a traditional IRA or 401(k), you must still pay income tax on the withdrawal amount. You can pay the tax over three years. It’s possible to avoid the tax by paying back the withdrawal amount within three years. Your (re)contributions don’t affect the annual contribution limits.

Individuals qualify for this fee waiver if they meet one of these conditions:

  • The plan holder is diagnosed with COVID-19
  • A spouse or dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Adverse financial consequences such as job loss, quarantine, unable to work due to child care, and other events defined by the U.S. Treasury Secretary

Temporary Waiver of Required Minimum Distributions

Tax-deferred retirement accounts like a traditional IRA or traditional 401(k) have required minimum distributions (RMDs) starting at age 70 ½. Or, age 72 if you turn 70 ½ in 2020 or later. Your first RMD for 2020 needed to happen by April 1, 2020.

You do not need to make any RMDs during calendar year 2020.

Student Loan Payments

If you have federal student loans, you received a bit of relief in this arena as well.

Suspends Loan and Interest Payments

Interest payments on most federal student loans is waived starting March 13, 2020, until September 30, 2020. This interest waiver was announced before the CARES Act was introduced. Monthly payments are also in forbearance until September 30, 2020.

This was later extended to the end of 2022 and then June 2023 while President Biden’s forgiveness plan made it way through the courts.

The interest and payment waivers apply automatically to qualifying loans. Any payment you make through September 30 goes directly to the loan balance. Interest-free payments can be an incentive for during this time.

These payment-free months also apply toward 120 qualifying payments for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. You will still need to maintain eligible employment during this time.

Private student loans, school-held Perkins loans, and FFEL loans held by private institutions do not qualify for these federal benefits.

Tax-Free Employer Student Loan Payment

Some employers make monthly student loan payments for their employees. This employer perk is taxable for individuals under ordinary circumstances. Up to $5,250 in employer contributions tax contributions are tax-free from the bill passage date (March 27, 2020) until January 1, 2021.

Health Insurance Benefits

The CARES Act clarifies some of the coronavirus-related expenses for public and private health insurance plans. Most of the health stimulus benefits go directly to medical provides as a “Marshall Plan” for health care systems.

Telehealth Services

You can use Health Savings Account (HSA) funds to pay for telehealth services before reaching your annual health plan deductible.

Your health plan may also waive the co-pay fee for telehealth services.

Free Coronavirus Testing

A previous stimulus round offered free novel coronavirus and COVID-19 diagnostic testing for the uninsured and government-sponsored health plans. The CARES Act waives the co-pay fee on diagnostic testing for private health insurance plans.

Some private plans are also waiving the co-pays for related treatment at in-network providers.

Federal Income Tax Benefits

Some of the other stimulus package benefits can benefit you when filing your taxes.

Charitable Contributions

Previously, you had to itemize your deductions if you wanted to deduct charitable contributions. For this year, all taxpayers can claim a $300 tax deduction (above the line) for charitable donations. If you have more than $300 and wish to claim them, you will need to file an itemized return.

Extended Tax Filing Deadlines

If you still need to file your 2019 federal income tax return, you have extra time. The new filing deadline is July 15, 2020, even if you owe a tax liability. Your state may also extend their tax filing deadline to reflect the federal filing extension but you have to double-check that. For example, my state of Maryland extended the deadline for individual tax returns to July 15th but business-related tax returns are due June 1st.

Estimated taxes for the first quarter of 2020 are now due on July 15, 2020, instead of April 15.

These measures can bring a little bit of relief, certainly more so than what was in place pre-pandemic, so please make sure you use the benefits as best you can.

Also, there’s already talk about additional assistance packages in the near future so keep on the lookout for those.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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      • Jose Angel Medellin says

        Greetings Mr. Wang,
        Very informative. Do you know if there is an email address to reach out to the IRS in relation to the stimulus check which has not been received?

    • Bill Homan says

      I’m getting garnished for student loan.They take the money out every week.
      I’m going back to work soon. Does the Cares Act stop the garnishing through September 30?

      • Jim Wang says

        The CARES Act put federal loans into forbearance, but not private ones. Is your loan private or federal?

  1. Charlotte Mayne says

    My son is a small business owner. He is having difficulty understanding how the PPP will help him. His business is nonessential so it is completely shut down. He has no monies coming in so to rehire those he had to lay off and if they applied for unemployment benefits would mean these individuals would make more on unemployment than what he could pay them. He doesn’t think they have any incentives to return. The real dilemma is that he could use the loan to pay rent, utilities…Do you view this another way?

    • Jim Wang says

      Hi Charlotte – The appeal of PPP is that you can get forgiveness on part of the loan but that’s only if you keep all your employees on the payroll for 8 weeks. Since he’s let them go (and they get more on unemployment), he would just be getting a low-interest rate loan which may or may not help him. 75% of the loan must be used on payroll to get forgiveness and only 25% could be used on other things (rent, utilities, etc.), so that probably doesn’t give him much room for forgiveness.

      That said, he is an employee of his own company and so you could get 8 weeks of pay forgiven and then calculate what the 25% figure should be on rent/utilities. His banker may know more and be able to help him.

  2. Nan says

    I thought Social Security recipients who had not filed income tax returns would still get the $1200 deposited in their accounts that receives their monthly Social Security payments?

  3. R Wayne Beaty says

    I am a USAF Veteran living with Service Connected Disabilities, 80% rating and is my only income. I haven’t seen anything on this Category. Have we been forgotten again or will be having to jump extra hoops in order to be able “STIMULATE” our economy!!!

  4. Montoya perry says

    What if I’m still waiting on my income taxes? Will I get those and my stimulus check deposited together?

  5. Alison D. Gilbert says

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for this info. We have a less than usual situation that was not specifically addressed. So could you tell us what we can expect since:
    1. We are retired seniors. We get social security each month by direct deposit.
    2. We didn’t file an income tax return for fed or state this year since our combined income is less than the amount required to file.
    3. We did file state last year.
    4. We could not file the fed since our income was too low.
    5. We do not get a tax return.
    6. We do not pay income tax.
    Please advise us with some good financial news hopefully. Thanks!

    • Jim Wang says

      You should get a Form SSA-1099 Social Security Benefit Statement right? The IRS will use that and you will likely get a $2,400 payment in the same way you get your Social Security.

      • Alison D. Gilbert says

        We get form SSA-4926-SM (1-2020) forms for each myself and my husband recording the Social Security Benefits we get starting at the beginning of each year. For this year as well.

        We do not have any income beyond our social security retirement income. Our total joint income for 2020 is less than $22,000. This is the documentation we received in January for the coming year.

  6. Dana says

    I haven’t filed 2018 or 2019 income tax I was self employed for 2 months before getting into a car accident..I’m know waiting to hear from lawyers and disability and have one child I sis file on the portal it says no information at this time can mean not processed yet ..I did give my bank info will I receive it

  7. Rebecca Fulton says

    My husband and I are both on SSI, filed a 2019 income tax by mistake, didn’t know we didn’t have to file. Things changed so much wasn’t sure what to do. Since we will receive No Refund and bank info wasn’t reported ,and do have direct deposit with SSI , will stimulus payment still be deposited?

    • Jim Wang says

      It should still be deposited but it’s not clear what the IRS will use if you filed a 2019 return without providing information.

  8. Elliott Widaski says

    I was able to get no benefits from any of efforts by government. Didn’t qualify for anything.

    They dropped the ‘payroll’ stimulus plan today and its of course upside down. Instead of messing with social security, unemployment, and other things FICA, they should just eliminate ‘federal income tax’ on earned income. It wouldn’t require a “rebate check” to employers. It would get the “I make more from not working” group off their butts. Employees should fee they are paying toward social security and unemployment.

  9. John David Weghorn says

    There is whole segment of the population left out of any stimulus relief. college students working part time that aren’t able to be claimed by their families any longer. For example; my daughter is 23 years old, enrolled in full time college as a nursing student and works 4 – 12 hour shifts per week at TriHealth Hospital system. She doesn’t qualify for any relief.??

    Another unfair issue for her; The college has taken her 3 hour lecture and squeezed it into a 30 minute “Zoom” online class. She cannot propery prepair for quizzes and tests. As they are still paying full tuition it is not a best practice to teach health care workers like this. Even their clinicalsnare supposed to consist of 8 hour shifts where they work at actual local hospitals one day per week with actual patients and nurses. These hands on classes are also somehow being done on line. Not good.

    In addition to become a nurse your grades have to maintain a B+ or above. Anything less is a total failure and you have to repeat the semester at your cost. $12, 0000 plus books and parking pass which we’ve paid for and are not being able to take advantage of is not fair. Further stress is she has already failed one semester. If she fails this one she is no longer eligible to be a nurse.

    They should refund the money from the school and resume when the pandemic clears. I have not heard our KY Gov. Andy Beshear mention anything about the folks like my 23 year old part time student/worker getting any relief or stimulus.

    My daughter does not feel she is getting a full education, especially in the medical field. You need hands on training not 30 minutes in a laptop taking
    Zoom classes where you cannot even ask the professors questions. She is not prepared for testing and is stressed about failing. Again ‐ if she fails she’s totally failed.

    I feel the Governor should close all colleges until further notice. Put the professors on furlough and give stimulus packages to college students.

  10. Alison D. Gilbert says

    Follow up-to my original question . . . we got our stimulus checks without taking any additional action since we are seniors on social security without any other income.


  11. Angie says

    The numbers don’t make since to me. I have 2 kids and made under $19800.00 but over $15000.00 and only received $900.10. Yet I know people who made more then me and had less kids and got the full payout. I did not owe taxes or child support so I believe all of this is bullshit. No one is really trying to help right they are just sending what they want and don’t care who it goes too as long as they are showing they are trying to help

  12. Tash says

    Hi Jim,

    I am a self employed individual living abroad. My US business is registered in Delaware so I only pay Federal taxes. Am I able to claim any unemployment as I didn’t pay state income taxes last year? Only federal?

  13. Donna Affeldt says

    So will this be added as income for social security? Will this be added as income for 2020 taxes?

    • Jim Wang says

      It’s not considered income, it’s an advance on a refundable tax refund.

    • Jim Wang says

      Yes, but you will get a notice that explains what happened after the fact – it appears it only gets sent after the check is intercepted.

  14. Becca says

    Any word on a fix for kids that are falling through the cracks…My son was my dependent in 2018 amd 2019. He has since turned 18. I dont qualify for the $500 for dependent because he is 18 now. But he doesnt qualify for 1200 because he was my dependent last year. The kid has his own bills, a car, gets to face crazy angry public in work daily, didnt get laid off so doesnt get that magical $600 extra a week that I STILL dont understand….two people I know had same position for same amount of time. One is still working and facing exposure, no extra pay or benefits….the other got laid off and is making out like a bandit with this extra money. What gives?

    • Jim Wang says

      The HEROES Act, which has only passed the House and the Senate has said is dead on arrival, would adjust the phrasing to be dependents, not just those that qualify for child tax credit (16 and younger). The HEROES Act would also amend the CARES Act to use the same language.

  15. Marolynn says

    I have not received the $1200 stimulus check. I did not file in 2018. In the past I’ve set up bank acct. info. with turbo tax.
    I’ve tried on the non-file website but I get an error message “IPPIN # needed” but the IRS isn’t open to give a new PIN#. I tried to file 2019 IRS & turbo tax website & got the same error message. Don’t remember receiving a PIPIN#. How can I override this to get my stimulus check since the IRS office isn’t open?

  16. David J Hopkins says

    Hi Jim….I have a question that I hope you can answer… my wife and I are currently both unemployed, we live in New Jersey, we are both collecting unemployment each week, I have received the extra $600 per week for the last few weeks but she has not received it at all as of yet. How is this possible and what do we do about this situation? Is there a someone we can call or is there anything we can do to find out why she has yet to receive her $600 per week extra?

    • Jim Wang says

      She should be getting it as part of the unemployment process, did you contact your state’s labor department for details?

  17. Ginger D Stack says

    I had a horrible time trying to figure out what I should do. I am a single mom I have no income (in process of disability procedures). I have 3 kids my youngest turned 17 January 2nd. Their father and I were divorced but he passed away about 4 years ago. My youngest still gets social security survivors benefits, it comes in my name as his payee on a direct express card. I havent worked or filed taxes in over 2 years. We do receive the SSA 1099 form yearly. We live with my mom and she doesnt claim us. I was so confused as to what I needed to do so I did a non filer on myself which according to guidelines I’m eligible. I claimed him as a dependent because he was under 17 years of age last year. As I’m sure you may already have read you cant find account or routing numbers for direct express, so I opened up and received a paypal card and went back in and entered my account and routing numbers. My het my payment status always says they are working on it or not eligible. Well I know I’m eligible so I guess it’s the process of getting all the information. I wouldn’t have thought by now I would know something for sure or received a stimulus check. Trust me I have done my research on this. I have gathered all my information from irs sites and other news sites. Can you give me any feedback on this because as it stands I guess it’s just a waiting game to gather all the information. I’m guessing. I would appreciate any information or advice you can give me.

    Ginger Stack

    • Jim Wang says

      I’m afraid your situation is a little more complicated but you should get a check, it just might come via paper check rather than DD depending on when they processed your updates. Only the IRS knows unfortunately.

  18. Amanda says

    Does this apply to kids under 18 who get survivors benefits?? The payee of the kids recieved the 1200$ but when he filed he put the kids info in with his and he got his 1200$ but didnt get the money for the kids ?? Is this because the kids will get their money through the social security office or they don’t qualify because they receive survivors benefits?? Thanks

    • Jim Wang says

      I’m afraid I don’t know about that specific situation, you might want to contact a financial professional to take a look at that scenario.

  19. Sandra says

    Can you tell me where I can find the contact information for the stimulus package? I want to voice my concern to whomever is in charge to change the requirements for the stimulus package?
    Is it the House Ways and Means Committee that is in charge of this?
    Leaving 17-24 year old’s out and garnishing stimulus for child support is just plain dumb! This package is supposed to help the American People not disappoint and dishearten them. Thank you.

    • Jim Wang says

      If you want to voice your opinion, you have to do it with your representative.

  20. Emelyn says

    Hi jim…. my husband have owe in child support are the IRS will garnish the stimulus check… we are married filling….

  21. Ben Shaw says

    Hi Jim, residents of Orange County, FL can apply for $1,000 stimulus check. How to find out which other counties in US offer such help? Thank you

    • Jim Wang says

      You have to search the county website of the county you live in – look specifically for how they intend to spend the money disbursed from the CARES Act.

  22. Kelly says

    Hello Jim,

    Hope all is well. I am currently living off my 401, until I get approved for SSD. Could I apply for the PUA unemployment?

    • Jim Wang says

      If you lost your job or lost hours at your job, I would apply for unemployment (or at least talk to someone there to find out more). I’m not an unemployment benefits expert so I don’t know.

  23. Andrea Estrada says

    My unemployment benefits exhausted right after covid 19 hit, and I still have not received any additional benefits from unemployment. Shouldn’t I be able to get the 600 a week? I have 3 children I have to support. I keep calling twc to request payment for unemployment.

    • Jim Wang says

      You have to work with your state’s unemployment division to get the benefits.

  24. Alex says

    So if they decide to give another check will the people who didn’t receive a check the first time due to back child support will we be able to get the second one because child support wanted there money so bad I ended up homeless because I couldn’t pay my rent I don’t care what the government said they went
    Ahead and did it anyway

  25. Joshua says

    Hello is there no relief package for people who worked through the whole covid 19 ? My job took away the small hazard pay we get per hour of work . I’m still working but helping others out also.

    • Jim Wang says

      There doesn’t appear to be any plans to subsidize the income of essential workers in the next package.

  26. Angelica says

    I never got my 1st check
    And I had the COVID-19 for a month
    Also my son never got his check either
    Is there a number or address I can get to see what’s up with this

  27. Colleen Alonzo says

    Trying to find out where I apply for family cares act. It seems I am eligible? I babysat my grandson for 9 months because my kids needed childcare so they could work.

    • Jim Wang says

      It’s typically defined by whether or not they are a dependent and it sounds like they weren’t, you were just taking care of them?

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