College grads getting $1,800 stimulus checks as they file tax returns

Jonah Yonker, a 23-year-old software developer in Orlando, never received either COVID-19 stimulus check, but that’s about to change.

Last year, Congress passed two relief packages that sent $1,800 in two waves to taxpayers. However, college students who were dependents of their parents did not receive the money.

Now, almost a year after the first wave of stimulus checks, people such as Yonker will see that cash come through as they file their tax returns for 2020.

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Yonker graduated from the University of Central Florida in May 2020. He never received a stimulus check despite working full time for most of 2020 because Yonker’s parents claimed him as a dependent in 2019. Now he’s filing his taxes independently and will receive the money through his tax return.

Yonker said he did not immediately need the money when it was being sent out. He found a job right out of college and lived at home.

“The money is meant to go to bills that might go unpaid otherwise and keeping families afloat,” Yonker said. “I didn’t feel like I was missing out really.”

He moved out in November, so getting the stimulus this spring through his tax return is better timing for his situation, he said. Living on his own now, Yonker said he can now use the money toward rent and groceries. More college dependents should be eligible for the next stimulus checks, Yonker said.

However, he said it should be based on need and not on dependency status. In May, the U.S. House passed the HEROES Act, which expanded stimulus eligibility to include full-time college students. But the bill died in committee in the Senate.

Not everyone who missed out on the checks will be able to get them.

Mike Salmon, a certified financial planner at Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo LLC in Orlando, said it takes specific criteria to qualify for the $1,800 through a tax return.

Eligibility for the first two stimulus checks was based on the most recently filed taxes, which could have been 2019 or 2018 taxes. The group most likely to be able to get the stimulus in a tax return are people such as Yonker who graduated college in 2020, Salmon said.

Because these graduates are no longer full-time students, they could file this spring independently and receive the money. A full-time student who graduated in late 2019, then got a job in 2020 also would now be eligible to collect the stimulus money once he or she files a tax return for 2020.

Salmon recommended caution for current college students who want to take advantage of this opportunity.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit offers a tax break for those claiming a college student on their taxes. In many cases, the $1,800 stimulus would not be enough to make up for the increase in taxes paid from losing the tax credit, Salmon said.

“Many people who think they have an opportunity to game the system here and get the 21-year-old some money are probably shooting themselves in the foot,” Salmon said.

But there could be more money on the way, even for those still in college. President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan includes $1,400 checks for adult dependents, including college students. The House approved of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to put it on a fast-track to pass by the end of the month.