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Is the stimulus taxable? – Lexington Law



The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

In April 2020, the American government sent out the first round of stimulus checks (also known as “economic impact payments”) to qualifying individuals. This financial relief was approved under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This first check was for up to $1,200 per person. With the pandemic lasting longer than was initially expected, the second round of stimulus check funding was approved and sent out in January 2021. This time the amount was up to $600 per person.

Now, as another COVID relief package has been approved, a third stimulus payment is being sent out. This check amount will be the highest one to date—up to $1,400 per person. 

Tax season has arrived again, and many people are wondering whether the stimulus is taxable, since all income is usually taxable unless expressly excluded. Luckily, the answer to this question is mostly a positive one: No, your stimulus checks aren’t taxable. However, they might affect some people’s tax refunds. 

The stimulus money is not taxable income

The IRS considers the stimulus checks a tax credit, not income. Regarding the economic impact payments, the IRS website clearly states that if you received the money because you qualified, you won’t have to pay taxes on it. 

The stimulus checks were a tax credit that was essentially paid out early. While a tax deduction lowers your taxable income, a tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar credit that decreases the amount of taxes owed. Usually, tax credits aren’t given out as checks, but an exception was made for the pandemic. The credit was sent out as a payment so Americans wouldn’t have to wait to file their 2020 tax return to receive the financial aid. 

There has been some speculation that the stimulus payments were like an advance on your usual tax refund and, therefore, you won’t get your regular refund this year. However, that’s not true. 

You won’t include the stimulus payments as part of your gross income, which means the stimulus payments won’t decrease your tax refund. See further down, however, for some state income tax implications that can inadvertently impact your tax refund.

Additionally, it’s important to note that since the stimulus checks aren’t considered income, they won’t affect a person’s ability to qualify for federal benefit programs or federal government assistance. Many people qualify for stimulus checks and unemployment insurance at the same time. 

What is the Recovery Rebate Credit?

The Recovery Rebate Credit is for people who didn’t receive the stimulus money when they should have. This might have happened due to an error or because a person filed differently on their 2020 taxes versus their 2018 or 2019 taxes.

For example, if a 20-year-old filed as a dependent on their 2019 taxes, that would have disqualified them from the stimulus check. But if that same individual files independently on their 2020 taxes, they’re eligible to receive the money retroactively. Other things that could have changed your eligibility in 2020 include bearing a child or seeing a drop in income. 

The Recovery Rebate Credit will show up as a potential line item on your Form 1040 income tax return. If you qualify and fill out Line 30, your stimulus money can be added as a credit to your income tax return. This means a person who claims the tax credit successfully will see their tax debt decreased or their tax refund increased. 

Let’s say you qualified for the initial $1,200 stimulus payment and didn’t receive it. You complete your tax return and find you’re going to get $800 back. However, once you add in the $1,200 Recovery Rebate Credit, you’ll find the government actually owes you a $2,000 tax refund. The Recovery Rebate Credit is “refundable,” so you do get the money from the government after filing. 

What is the deadline for filing taxes?

Last year, the IRS extended the tax deadline from April 15 to July 15, 2020. An extension was announced for 2021, pushing the deadline back to May 17. Generally speaking, the sooner you file, the sooner you can get your refund, so keep this in mind when considering when to do your taxes.

How will my 2020 taxes affect the third stimulus check?

The first two payments (of up to $1,200 and $600, respectively) were based on 2018 and 2019 tax returns. The third stimulus check will look at your most recent tax return to determine eligibility, so if you’ve already filed, that would be your 2020 taxes, but if you haven’t, that would be your 2019 taxes. 

While your stimulus check won’t impact your federal taxes, it can affect some state taxes. Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana and Oregon all allow for federal tax to be deductible against state taxable income. 

So let’s say an individual who lives in Iowa received the first stimulus payment of $1,200 for themselves but didn’t receive the $500 for their qualifying dependent under 17 years of age. In this example, the individual received both of their qualifying payments for the second stimulus round, so they only missed out on the $500. So, this person adds the $500 credit to Line 30 on their Form 1040.

If the filer had owed $2,000 in federal taxes, they would now only owe $1,500. Before claiming the $500 Recovery Rebate Credit, this filer could have subtracted $2,000 from their taxable income on their state return. But since that number has been lowered to $1,500, their state tax liability will be higher. 

What should I do with my tax refund?

People often mistakenly see their tax refund as “fun money” to spend on activities or purchases. In reality, financial experts always recommend you act wisely with your tax refund. 

Jackie Beck is a debt reduction expert and the creator of the app Pay Off Debt. Beck encourages people to understand that their tax refund isn’t free money. Beck says, “It’s money you earned all year long. You worked for it, so you may as well use it to achieve your goals instead of blowing it.”

Some of the best ways you can spend your tax refund include:

  • Paying off debt, especially high-interest debt like credit card debt or personal loans
  • Increasing your savings, especially if you don’t have emergency savings
  • Investing in stocks, bonds or mutual funds
  • Donating to a good cause
  • Investing in a service such as credit repair to improve your financial health going forward

Making good use of your tax refund can set you on the path toward a stronger financial future. 

Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah, North Carolina and Virginia.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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Does Getting Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Both Spouses’ Credit?



couples credit history

While marriage can help you improve your financial situation, it does not automatically mean that you and your spouse will share a credit report. Your credit records will remain separate, and any joint accounts or joint loans that you open will appear on both of your reports. While this can be advantageous, it’s critical to remember that joint account activity can effect both of your credit scores positively or negatively, just as separate accounts do.

Users Who Are Authorized

An authorized user is a user who has been added to an existing credit account and has been granted the authority to make purchases. Authorized users are typically issued a card bearing their name, and any purchases made by them will appear on your statement. The primary distinction between an authorized user and a shared account owner is that the account’s original owner is solely responsible for debt repayment. Authorized users, on the other hand, can always opt-out of their authorized status, although the principal joint account owner cannot.

If your credit score is better than your spouse’s as an authorized user, he or she may benefit from a credit score raise upon account addition. This is contingent upon your creditor notifying the credit bureaus of permitted user activity. If your lender does report authorized users, the activity on your account may have an effect on both you and your spouse. However, some lenders report only positive authorized user information, which means that late payment or poor usage may not have a negative effect on someone else’s credit. Consult your lender to determine how authorized users on your account are treated.

Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Your Credit Score

Opening a joint credit account or obtaining joint financing binds both of you legally to the debt’s repayment. This is critical to remember if you divorce or separate and your spouse refuses to make payments, even if previously agreed upon. It makes no difference who is “responsible,” the shared duty will result in both partners’ credit histories being badly impacted by late payments. Regardless of changes in relationship status or divorce order, the creditor considers both parties to be liable for the debt until the account is paid in full.

Accounts Individuals

Whether you’re happily married or divorced, you and your spouse may decide to open separate credit accounts. Most creditors will enable you to transfer an account that was previously joint to one of your names if both of you agree. However, if there is a debt on the account, your lender may refuse to remove your spouse’s name unless you can qualify for the same credit on your own. Depending on your financial status, qualifying for financing and credit on a single income may be tough.


While creating the majority of your accounts jointly with your spouse may make it easier to obtain financing (two salaries are preferable to one), reestablishing credit independently following a divorce or separation is not always straightforward. To make matters worse, your spouse may wind up causing significant damage to your credit rating following the separation, either intentionally or through irresponsibility – making the financial situation much more difficult.

Before you rush in and open accounts with your spouse, take some time to discuss the shared responsibility of these accounts and what you and your husband would do in the event of a worst-case situation. These types of financial discussions can be difficult, especially when you rely on items lasting a long time, but a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s credit can go a long way toward keeping your score when sharing an account.

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Credit Cards

Should you pay down debt or save for retirement?



rebuilding credit

While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.

Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.

If you have high-interest debt, pay it down

When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).

In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.

High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.

To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.

If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.

Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.

If you’re nearing retirement, start to save

The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).

Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.

Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.

Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.

Aim for both goals by improving income

As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.

The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.

If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.

For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.

While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).

Learn how you can start repairing your credit here, and carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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Credit Cards

How does a loan default affect my credit?



loan default

Nobody takes out a loan expecting to default on it. Despite their best intentions, people sometimes find themselves struggling to pay off their loans. These types of struggles happen for many reasons, including job loss, significant debt, or a medical or personal crisis.

Making late payments or having a loan fall into default can add pressure to other personal struggles. Before finding yourself in a desperate situation, understanding how a loan default can impact your credit is necessary to avoid negative consequences.

30 days late

Missing one payment can further lower your credit score. If you can pay the past due amount plus applicable late fees, you may be able to mitigate the damage to your credit, if you make all other payments as expected.

The trouble starts when you (1) miss a payment, (2) do not pay it at all, and (3) continue to miss subsequent payments. If those actions happen, the loan falls into default.

More than 30 days late

Payments that are more than 30 days past due can trigger increasingly serious consequences:

  • The loan default may appear on your credit reports. It will likely lower your credit score, which most creditors and lenders use to review credit applications.
  • You may receive phone calls and letters from creditors demanding payment.
  • If you still do not pay, the account could be sent to collections. The debt collector seeks payment from you, sometimes using aggressive measures.

Then, the collection account can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. This action can damage your creditworthiness for future loan or credit card applications. Also, it may be a deciding factor when obtaining basic necessities, such as utilities or a mobile phone.

Other ways a default can hurt you

Hurting your credit score is reason enough to avoid a loan default. Some of the other actions creditors can take to collect payment or claim collateral are also quite serious:

  • If you default on a car loan, the creditor can repossess your car.
  • If you default on a mortgage, you could be forced to foreclose on your home.
  • In some cases, you could be sued for payment and have a court judgment entered against you.
  • You could face bankruptcy.

Any of these additional consequences can plague your credit score for years and hinder your efforts to secure your financial future.

How to avoid a loan default

Your options to avoid a loan default depend upon the type of loan you have and the nature of your personal circumstances. For example:

  • For student loans, research deferment or forbearance options. Both options permit you to temporarily stop making payments or pay a lesser amount per month.
  • For a mortgage, ask the lender if a loan modification is available. Changing the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or extend the life of the loan so your monthly payments are smaller.

Generally, you can avoid a loan default by exercising common sense: buy only what you need and can afford, keep a steady job that earns enough income to cover your expenses, and keep the rest of your debts low.

Clean up your credit

The hard reality is that defaulting on a loan is unpleasant. It can negatively affect your credit profile for years. Through patience and perseverance, you can repair the damage to your credit and improve your standing over time.

Consulting with a credit repair law firm can help you address these issues and get your credit back on track. At Lexington Law, we offer a free credit report summary and consultation. Call us today at 1-855-255-0139.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

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