Five-Minute Form Equals Check in the Mail

By Beacon Staff

People wondering about their 2008 economic stimulus payment, often called a tax rebate, should know two things: Most adults qualify for it and everybody must file a 2007 tax return to get their checks.

Lil Dupree of Northwest Montana Human Resources has been fielding calls from people worried about getting their rebates, which are part of an economic stimulus package recently signed into law by President Bush. Dupree, who operates a free tax assistance program for NMHR, tells them the process is simple and noninvasive: They need to fill out a 1040A tax return form, even if they don’t pay taxes, and the Internal Revenue Service does the rest. No other paperwork is necessary.

“Realistically this is very straightforward, but people have to file,” Dupree said. “We’re coping with people who have never filed and now have to.”

Single individuals with a yearly income of $75,000 or less will receive a $600 check. Married couples with a combined income of $150,000 or less will receive a $1,200 check. After the $75,000 and $150,000 thresholds, the rebate decreases by $5 for every $100 increase in income. The number of kids in a family also affects the total rebate.

People who have already filed their tax returns don’t need to do anything except wait for their check to come in the mail. The federal government will begin sending out the rebates in May. Direct deposit is available if asked for in the return. To avoid any delays, people should file their returns by the April 15 tax deadline.

There is occasionally confusion among people who either don’t earn enough off of wages to file taxes or who don’t have a job but collect federal assistance money. As long as these people earn $3,000, from wages or qualifying government assistance programs, they are eligible for a $300 rebate. Qualifying government assistance includes Social Security and certain railroad retirement and veterans’ benefits.

People who have outstanding debts to the IRS, or owe for things like child support and student loans, may not be eligible for the rebate, Dupree said.

The trick, she added, is getting everybody to fill out a 1040A, which “scares people” who have never done it. But Dupree stresses that filing a return will not change a person’s tax status nor will it give the IRS access to any information that it doesn’t already have. The form simply allows the IRS to determine one’s eligibility.

“There’s a little bit of concern over the government knowing what they’re doing,” Dupree said.

She recommends taking advantage of the free tax assistance services of NMHR, the Flathead County Agency on Aging or the American Association of Retired Persons. She said the free services are especially helpful for lower income people, whereas they would have to pay $25 to go through H&R Block.

“They can keep that whole $300 instead off ponying out almost 10 percent of it,” Dupree said. “We serve a lot of people that coming up with $25 today is very difficult.”

Peggy Colby from the Agency on Aging said her organization goes to the houses of people who are homebound to give them tax assistance and she fields calls at her office. People can contact NMHR for tax assistance at 752-6565 or the Agency on Aging at 758-5730. Extensive tax information is available at www.irs.gov.