The stimulus check guaranteed by the CARES Act has been touted as an emergency relief measure that everyone but the richest Americans will benefit from. If your tax filing status is single and your adjusted gross income is less than $75,000, you should receive $1,200 and then a little less for every bracket over that amount until $99,000, at which point you’d receive zero stimulus money. If you’re married and your adjusted gross income is less than $150,000, you’d receive $2,400. But there’s a subset of Americans who may not get any money at all despite being below the maximum thresholds: college students.
Specifically, college students who were claimed as a dependent on their parents’ 2019 tax returns won’t get any stimulus money. The CARES Act provides an extra $500 for every child you claim as a dependent. But if a parent has claimed a college student as their dependent, it’s not as if they’ll get that extra financial assistance — that extra $500 only applies to dependents 16 years and younger. According to the IRS, a qualifying child is either under the age of 19 at the end of the tax filing year, or under 24 and a full-time student at the end of the filing year.
Common tax advice for college students suggests that students bring up the issue of filing taxes with their parents to determine if it would be more advantageous to be claimed as a dependent or to file separately. But often that discussion may not take place. When we spoke to Refinery29 readers about how they’re spending their stimulus check, one woman who had been furloughed from her marketing job said that she would not receive any money, “because a parent claimed me as a dependent even though I pay all of my own bills.” In addition to the age eligibility requirements above, a qualifying child must usually have lived with their parents for half the year and provide less than half of their own financial support. But exceptions do apply, and parents might claim their children as dependents erroneously or without letting their children know.
College students may sometimes be claimed as dependents in order to have health insurance or be eligible for federal financial aid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not working and it definitely doesn’t mean that their parents are providing complete financial support. A 2015 Georgetown University study found that about 70% of all full-time college students worked, with about 40% of undergraduates working at least 30 hours a week.
If you were claimed as a dependent on your parents’ last tax return, but this isn’t an accurate description of your tax status, you can dispute it. Experts advise that you can try to file your 2019 taxes ASAP and establish that you’re not a dependent, but it’s not a guarantee that this will make you immediately eligible for the stimulus check currently being disbursed.
While the government has suspended federal student debt payments and interest accruals as a response to COVID-19, it doesn’t go far enough to provide financial assistance right now to students. A new stimulus bill providing monthly assistance to Americans may be coming, but whether it will fix such a broad exclusion of young people affected financially by the pandemic is unclear.