A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Taxing the Stimulus?


Q: Is the economic stimulus payment taxable?

A: No.

FULL QUESTION

More than 130 million taxpaying households will be eligible for economic stimulus payments in May 2008. Is this considered taxable income?

FULL ANSWER

Like most things involving the IRS, the 2008 stimulus payments generate a lot of questions, details, exceptions and paperwork. On the face of it, the idea is simple: If you file your 2007 taxes with at least $3,000 of taxable income, you will be eligible for a minimum payment of $300 (and a maximum of $600). Those with high incomes may not receive a payment, or may get a lower amount. But that doesn’t eliminate the IRS’ need for a multi-part Frequently Asked Questions list

The answer to this one, at least, is fairly clear. The payment is not included in your tax refund check, but it is not taxable income. You won’t have to pay taxes on it in 2008, and it will not reduce your 2008 refund. The IRS does recommend keeping a copy of the official notice detailing the amount of your payment – for your records, of course. Would you expect anything else?

-Jess Henig

Update, March 12: Some readers have written to us to say some states would tax the stimulus payments; others have insisted that we were wrong and that these payments would be taxed on their 2008 federal tax returns. However, neither allegation is correct.

First, the stimulus payment is not taxable at the state level. Verenda Smith at the Federation of Tax Administrators says the confusion stems from the fact that some states offer a deduction for federal taxes paid. If an individual’s federal tax payment goes down, so will the amount of the deduction, which means that person would be paying slightly more in state taxes. That’s not a tax on the stimulus payment, but it reduces the deduction that’s intended to defray federal tax expenses.

Iowa and Alabama, which allow full deductions for federal taxes, and Missouri, which allows a partial one, are already trying to revise their laws so that the deduction isn’t affected by the stimulus payment.

Second, the stimulus payment will not be considered taxable income on 2008 returns, and it won’t affect the amount a taxpayer owes. The only reason a taxpayer might have to disclose how much he or she received on the 2008 return is if the individual didn’t qualify for the full payment in 2007 and believes he or she did qualify in 2008. Eric Smith (no relation) at the IRS explains: “It’s a one-time credit, but you get two shots at it.” If a taxpayer isn’t eligible for a payment, or doesn’t qualify for the maximum payment, based on the 2007 return, that taxpayer will have a chance on the 2008 return to show that he or she is eligible for the remainder. (Those who receive the refund in 2007, but aren’t eligible in 2008, won’t need to pay it back.) To claim a full or partial payment for 2008, taxpayers will need to know how much they did or didn’t get for 2007.

For further clarification, contact a tax professional or call the IRS’ individual assistance line (1-800-829-1040).

Sources

Internal Revenue Service. "Stimulus Payments: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions," 28 Feb. 2008.