WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush signed legislation this afternoon to send $300 to $1,200 rebate checks to millions of Americans as a “booster shot” for the economy.
Rebates are to go out beginning in May to taxpayers and low-income people, including seniors living off of Social Security and veterans who depend on disability checks. Businesses would get tax breaks for investing in new plants and equipment.
“I know a lot of Americans are concerned about our economic future,” Bush said. “Our overall economy has grown for six straight years, but that growth has clearly slowed.”
The Internal Revenue Service today advised taxpayers that in most cases they will not have to do anything extra this year to get the economic stimulus payments beginning in May.
“Eligible taxpayers need only file a 2007 tax return and the IRS will do the rest,” said IRS Spokesperson Eric Erickson.
The IRS will use information on the 2007 tax return filed by the taxpayer to determine eligibility and calculate the amount of the stimulus payments.
The IRS will begin sending taxpayers their payments in early May after the current tax season concludes. Payments to more than 130 million taxpayers will continue over several weeks during the spring and summer. A payment schedule for taxpayers will be announced in the near future.
Stimulus payments will be direct deposited for taxpayers selecting that option when filing their 2007 tax returns. Taxpayers who have already filed with direct deposit won't need to do anything else to receive the stimulus payment. For taxpayers who haven't filed their 2007 returns yet, the IRS reminds them that direct deposit is the fastest way to get both regular refunds and stimulus payments.
Most taxpayers just need to file a 2007 tax return as usual. No other action, extra form or call is necessary. The agency’s Web site, www.irs.gov, will be the best information source for all updates and taxpayer questions.
In most cases, the payment will equal the amount of tax liability on the tax return, with a maximum amount of $600 for individuals ($1,200 for taxpayers who file a joint return).
The law also allows for payments for select taxpayers who have no tax liability, such as low-income workers or those who receive Social Security benefits or veterans’ disability compensation, pension or survivors’ benefits received from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007. These taxpayers will be eligible to receive a payment of $300 ($600 on a joint return) if they had at least $3,000 of qualifying income.
Qualifying income includes Social Security benefits, certain Railroad Retirement benefits, certain veterans’ benefits and earned income, such as income from wages, salaries, tips and self-employment. While these people may not be normally required to file a tax return because they do not meet the filing requirement, the IRS emphasizes they must file a 2007 return in order to receive a payment.
Recipients of Social Security, certain Railroad Retirement and certain veterans’ benefits should report their 2007 benefits on Line 14a of Form 1040A or Line 20a of Form 1040. Taxpayers who already have filed but failed to report these benefits can file an amended return by using Form 1040X. The IRS is working with the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that recipients are aware of this issue.
“Some people receiving Social Security and veterans’ benefits may not realize they will need to file a tax return to get the stimulus payment,” Stiff said. “To reach these people, the IRS and Treasury will work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and key beneficiary groups on outreach efforts.”
Eligible taxpayers who qualify for a payment will receive an additional $300 for each child who qualifies for the child tax credit.
Payments to higher income taxpayers will be reduced by 5 percent of the amount of adjusted gross income above $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for those filing jointly.
Taxpayers must have valid Social Security Numbers to qualify for the stimulus payment. If married filing jointly, both taxpayers must have a valid Social Security Number. Children must have valid Social Security Numbers to be eligible as qualifying children.
Taxpayers who file their tax returns using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number issued by the IRS or any number issued by the IRS are ineligible. Also ineligible are individuals who can be claimed as dependents on someone else’s return, or taxpayers who file Form 1040-NR, 1040-PR or 1040-SS.
To accommodate taxpayers who file tax returns later in the year, the IRS will continue sending payments until December 31, 2008. The IRS also cautions taxpayers that if they file their 2007 tax return and then move their residence that they should file a change of address card with the U.S. Postal Service.
The IRS will mail two informational notices to taxpayers advising them of the stimulus payments. However, taxpayers should be alert for tax rebate scams such as telephone calls or emails claiming to be from the IRS and asking for sensitive financial information. The IRS will not call or email taxpayers about these payments nor will it ask for financial information. Scam emails and information about scam calls should be forwarded to email@example.com.
Several dozen members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stood on the stage behind Bush as he signed a bill to fend off a possible recession. He said the stimulus package was achieved after he talked with leaders of Congress in January about “whether or not we could come together to provide a booster shot for our economy — a package that is robust, temporary, and puts money back into the hands of American workers and businesses.”
Most taxpayers will receive a check of up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples from the Internal Revenue Service, with an additional $300 per child. People earning at least $3,000 and those who owe little or no taxes would get $300 for singles, $600 for couples. Those making more than $75,000 and couples with income exceeding $150,000 are to get smaller rebates — $50 less per $1,000 they make over those thresholds.
“Americans struggling with the high cost of energy, groceries and health care will soon receive relief, and our economy will get a timely, targeted, and temporary boost — thanks to our bipartisan stimulus package,” Pelosi said. “This package gets money into the hands of Americans struggling to make ends meet, helps families with children, cuts taxes for small businesses that will create new jobs and stimulates our slowing economy.”
Economic analysts generally believe the $168 billion package Bush signed will help prevent the current downturn from ballooning into a crisis. But if the rebates don’t spur a consumer spending spree strong enough to cure what ails the economy, Congress is ready to throw more money at the problem. Bush said the measure was “large enough to have an impact.”
Democrats and Republicans who put aside deep differences to craft the plan and rush it to enactment joined the president at the White House for the signing ceremony in the East Room. The package is designed in part to inoculate lawmakers from voter blame should the economy continue to lag as the November elections bear down.
Congressional leaders already are considering more economic rescue measures that could include transportation spending, unemployment aid and measures to address the housing crunch that’s at the root of the current economic doldrums.
In the meantime, economists are debating how effective the rebates will be, with critics arguing that debt-burdened consumers will use the money to pay bills rather than spending the checks and spurring growth.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that only 19 percent of those surveyed said they planned to spend their rebate checks. Forty-five percent said they would pay bills, while 32 percent said they planned to invest the money.
The last time the government sent out rebates, in 2003, recipients spent a little less than a third in the first six months, and about two-thirds within the first year, according to findings by the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers, cited by congressional tax analysts. After rebates were sent out in 2001, just 22 percent said they would mostly spend them — rather than saving the money or using it to pay off debt — and only one-third of the rebate was spent in the short run, according to the same study.
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